High-flying Jets fend off Sabres to keep racking up the points
Dustin Byfuglien scores 1st of season, while Blake Wheeler, Jacob Trouba have 2-point nights
Bryan Little is impressed by what Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler is doing these days.
Wheeler moved to centre from right wing Dec. 27 when Mark Scheifele was injured. In four full games since then, the captain has fired in five goals.
In a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Friday, Wheeler and Jacob Trouba each had a goal and an assist as the Jets extended their point streak to five games (4-0-1).
"It's not easy to make that transition," said Little, who centres the team's second line and also scored. "Not many people can do it and he makes it look really easy.
"When I watch him out there as a centre, it looks like his natural position. It's nice to have that kind of flexibility on your team."
Wheeler is on a personal five-game point run, with five goals and three assists. When Scheifele suffered an upper-body injury, the prognosis was he'd miss six to eight weeks.
"I've told you all along, it's not about points for me," Wheeler said. "It's finding a way to help our team win.
"Obviously, when Scheifele went down I wanted to step up and make an impact, but I'm not alone in that. I think everyone did that. Team has been playing good, puck has been finding me. I think it's just coincidence."
But Wheeler does like the move so far.
"A little more freedom," he said. "I like being off the wall. I like getting the puck in the middle. Game is a little bit different in there. I've enjoyed it.
The Jets are 4-0-1 in their last five games and 24-11-7 overall, good for first in the NHL Central Division as St. Louis was idle and one point back.
Winnipeg defenceman Dustin Byfuglien raised his arms in celebration and looked up to the rafters after scoring his first goal of the season in his 30th game. It was his second game back after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury.
🔨🚨🔨🚨🔨🚨🔨🚨🔨<br><br>🚨: Dustin Byfuglien<br>🍎: <a href="https://twitter.com/BiggieFunke?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BiggieFunke</a> <br>🍏: <a href="https://twitter.com/PatrikLaine29?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PatrikLaine29</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoJetsGo?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoJetsGo</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BUFvsWPG?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BUFvsWPG</a> <a href="https://t.co/XWhNHsQ9jP">pic.twitter.com/XWhNHsQ9jP</a>—@NHLJets
Little scored his eighth goal for the Jets, who are 15-3-1 at Bell MTS Place. Connor Hellebuyck made 26 saves to pick up his 22nd win (22-4-6).
The Jets led 2-1 after the first period and 3-2 after two.
Buffalo defenceman Marco Scandella fired in his first goal of the season in his 41st game, Scott Wilson scored his first in his 29th game and forward Johan Larsson notched his second goal of the season in his 41st outing. Jason Pominville and Evan Rodrigues each had a pair of assists.
Winnipeg was two for four on the power play and the Sabres zero for five.
Buffalo's penalty kill was tied for 13th in the NHL heading into the game and its power play 30th.
"It's frustrating," Buffalo forward Ryan O'Reilly said. "[The Jets] have a good power play and I thought we were prepared for them. We've got to stay out of the box. When someone's that good, you can't give their best players the opportunities because they'll make us pay, and they did."
Chad Johnson stopped 25 shots for the Sabres (10-22-9), who had lost 6-2 the night before in Minnesota. Johnson had relieved Robin Lehner in that loss.
"I don't like the result, but I felt good about where my positioning was," Johnson said. "It was just hard to find pucks. They were getting it to the point and getting it through quickly and getting shots through quickly. It was really hard. Some big bodies. They know where to be in front there."
Winnipeg's last win against the Sabres was a Dec. 16, 2014 home game, which was followed by four straight losses.
Winnipeg hosts San Jose on Sunday afternoon and Buffalo goes to Philadelphia to play the Flyers the same day.