At 6-foot-5, 265-pounds, Dustin Byfuglien isn’t your father’s, or even your nephew’s, puck-moving defenseman.
The Bruins will find that out firsthand tonight.
Playing for Chicago the last couple years, Byfuglien moved back and forth between forward and defense. Since joining the Atlanta Thrashers this season, he has been a full-time blueliner — with the ability to do things like this:
The Bruins didn’t see a lot of Byfuglien, who leads all NHL defenseman in goals (8) and is third in points (21) when he was skating in the Western Conference (four games, one assist in his career vs. Boston). Starting tonight at 5 p.m., they’re scheduled to face him four times over the course of the season. So it’ll be up to the Bruins to devise a plan to slow him down.
“I think the biggest thing is we have to take good angles on him and we have to pressure him, we have to take the body,” Brad Marchand, one of Boston’s most effective forecheckers said before leaving for Atlanta Saturday. “If you go in and try to stick check him, he’s going to make some moves and he has the ability to beat you. So we can’t just focus on him, there’s a whole team out there, but as long as we get in there and forecheck and take the body on him and play him hard, it should make it tough [on him].”
To Blake Wheeler, another player the Bruins need to be aware when Byfuglien is working up a head of steam, the best way to limit the Thrashers blueliner’s ability to impact the game is by making sure he’s chasing the puck rather than carrying it.
“You make him play in the defensive zone, you know. If he’s got to go the whole length of the ice to make things happen, then obviously it takes away from his game a lot,” said the Bruins forward. “So if we’re making him play in his own zone, and staying on him and taking the body on him and those things, then he’s going to have not such a fun game. But if we don’t do those things, he’s going to be effective.
Atlanta has won four in a row and Byfuglien, along with captain Andrew Ladd, has a four-game point-scoring streak. That’s not a coincidence. The “Big Buff” is a player the Bruins will have to handle in order to prevent their own recent struggles from continuing.