During the Thrashers 4-3 overtime win over Ottawa, Thrashers defenseman-turned-forward-turned-defenseman Dustin Byfuglien scored his 11th goal of the season late in the second period. For Byfuglien, that goal set a new Thrashers team record for goals scored by a defenseman.
He’s broken a franchise record in just December, a record that took just 31 games to break. If you’ll recall, we wondered aloud if moving Byfuglien back to his normal position on the blue line, one he played while coming up in the Chicago system, was a good idea. We know that Jeremy Roenick thought it was a really bad decision but perhaps that’s why he’s not a head coach. After being such a success as a forward and taking up space in front of opposing goalies all throughout the playoffs last year, it seemed like new Atlanta head coach Craig Ramsay was taking a risk.
As it turns out, Ramsay knew exactly what he was getting and that by putting Byfuglien back where he felt most comfortable has worked out pretty well for the Thrashers. Ramsay said he envisioned Byfuglien being a 15-goal scorer as a defenseman. That goal total is one that took him virtually a full season to reach in each of his last three years in Chicago. Now, he’s just four goals away from reaching 15 and you have to think that making a run at 20 isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.
Talk about silencing your critics. Byfuglien has been a major part of the rise of Atlanta this season and giving them something they haven’t really had before in team history, a defenseman that can score be a power play threat, is the key. Now Atlanta is in striking distance of the Capitals in the Southeast Division and they’re playing a brand of hockey that’s tough while also getting tremendous goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec. Sounds like the kind of team that might be a real pain in the butt to play in the playoffs, doesn’t it?
The Thrashers are hoping that they’ll be able to keep riding high to make it that far this year and have Dustin Byfuglien’s assistance and experience to rally around for it. For now though, the Thrashers are happy to continue climbing the ladder in the East and with the conference being as wide open as it is, who’s to say they can’t shake things up in the spring.