Dustin Byfuglien is gaining a growing legion of followers in Atlanta and with good reason.
Byfuglien and the new and improved Thrashers team is jelling and recently has made life difficult for a lot of top-tier teams.
Byfuglien scored a goal and three assists as the Thrashers won their fifth straight game.The legend is growing. Byfuglien is the Thrashers' leading scorer and is plus-5 all while patrolling the blueline.
The converted defenseman leads the team in scoring (25 points) and is tied for the lead in goals (9). He had a goal and two assists in the opening period as the Thrashers jumped to a 3-0 lead. Byfuglien has four goals and six assists in a five-game point streak. Ironically, his goal total alone is more than previous Atlanta star performer Ilya Kovalchuk has scored for the New Jersey Devils all season long.
Byfuglien also leads all NHL defensemen in points and goals. His four-point performance tied Jaroslav Modry’s franchise record for points in a game by a defenseman, set Dec. 26, 2005.
Most NHL scribes forecasted that Thrasher defensemen would benefit greatly from the team strategy of optimizing four man rush opportunities which requires defenders to join the offensive rush.
“The boy is brilliant,” Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said. “He’s special. We encourage our defensemen to jump up into the play. We encourage them to be involved offensively. I guess he really took that to heart. He’s up probably more than the vast majority of forwards.”
Asked about the Atlanta defenseman, Boston coach Claude Julien said, "Everything is going his way."
"It means the team's doing something right," Byfuglien said. "Everyone's buying in. We're back-checking hard."
Goaltender Ondrej Pavlec also has provided some brilliant performances during the streak. Pavelec has stopped 154-of-157 shots (.981 save percentage) during the win streak.
“Like I’ve said, we are doing a great job,” Pavelec said. “I can see the first shot and the defensemen are doing a great job to clean the crease. It’s so much easier for me that if I stop the first shot, they will get the rebounds.”
Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay isn't surprised that Byfuglien, the centrepiece acquisition of Atlanta's offseason, moved from third place to first as the NHL's defensive scoring leader with 25 points.
The 6'5", 265-pound Byfuglien, traded to Atlanta in the offseason by Stanley Cup champion Chicago in a salary-cap move, leads all defensemen with nine goals.
"He's up more than probably the vast majority of forwards," Ramsay said. "He's growing in the defensive zone, and that's probably what I like better. When he gets in battles down low, he comes up with pucks and makes plays off it."
Rick Dudley and coach Craig Ramsay have worked hard to create the right team chemistry.
"We have to back each other up," Byfuglien said. "We're not afraid to go in and stand up for each other.”
The Thrashers are on a roll the question is can they keep it up? If so they may break some team and individual records and increase their dismal attendance figures by playoff time.