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Ryan Lambert

What We Learned: Hockey world owes Dustin Byfuglien an apology

Ryan Lambert
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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

I'm writing this before the end of the Thrashers/Bruins game on Sunday night, but I think it's safe to say that Sunday night's Three Stars post featured Dustin Byfuglien(notes) at No. 1.

And at this point, you can probably see why.

Through two periods, he had a goal, and assisted on the Thrashers' three others. And you'd probably think that was a pretty great night for the guy.

But the fact is he's been doing this all season.

Remember when Atlanta first announced he would be moving back to the blue line? "Oh ho ho," chortled the hockey community at large. "He was a barely serviceable forward during the regular season last year, and they moved him away from defense because he was terrible at it."

True to expectations, Byfuglien started the year back at his natural position rather questionably, getting noticeably torched on more than a few highlight-reel goals and eliciting easily 10 times that figure in told-ya-so's. Through his first 15 games, he was a plus player just twice, despite putting up 14 points in that time.

But, very quietly, he was playing hefty minutes with greater and greater frequency, and, while not being a plus, he also wasn't often a minus despite Atlanta bleeding goals (55 against in the first 15).

And now, he's got nine goals from the blue line. That's best in the league among defensemen. He's got 16 assists. That's sixth. And there's the 25 points. That's also best in the league. He's riding a five-game point streak in which he's piled up 4-5-9. That's Crosby numbers right there.

(Coming Up: Crying over Chris Pronger's(notes) referee injustice; the Kings fall off the throne; Dan Paille's dirty play; Filatov a scratch; the Sharks are banged up; the Blackhawks get healthy; Ovechkin makes his teammates better; overrating Tomas Plekanec(notes); blaming Kiprusoff; another KovaLOLchuk moment; Kaberle-to-Rangers trade proposal; and Jordin Tootoo(notes) talks about his Sean Avery(notes) fight.)

Byfuglien has scored a league-leading five game-winners as well, and also hasn't had a minus night since Nov. 6.

Atlanta, partly as a consequence, has 27 points from 24 games (though it had 31 through 24 last year and we all know how that turned out).

Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom have turned the Atlanta power play into an absolute terror. Of his points, 13 have come on the power play (same goes for Enstrom), and that's made the Thrashers' man advantage third-best in the league behind Vancouver and, somehow, Minnesota.

Hell, the entire Atlanta offense, for which Byfuglien is, not surprisingly, top point and goal scorer, is the fifth best in the NHL at 3.17 goals per game.

On Twitter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Chris Vivlamore posited that the trade that brought Byfuglien, new team captain Andrew Ladd(notes), Brent Sopel(notes) and Ben Eager(notes) to the Thrashers might be the best in team history.

And while that's probably wrong for at least two reasons -- the first being that it's a bit early to judge and the second being that, when compared to the work of Don Waddell, even a child's finger-painting would look like it belongs in the Louvre -- it's almost not hyperbole.

Byfuglien has now scored 25 points in 24 games this year, with his career high being just 36 in 67 for Chicago three years ago. At the rate he's been scoring lately, he could just top that mark by mid-December.

So yeah, the hockey world owes Big Buff a big apology.

Line forms to the left.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Bobby Ryan(notes) had a heck of a nice hat trick on Saturday but no one cared because so did Sid Crosby.

Atlanta Thrashers: Craig Ramsay has been "teaching" the Thrashers how to play better hockey. And given that he looks like a James Bond villain, I imagine it involves slowly lowering Chris Thorburn(notes) into a vat of lava.

Boston Bruins: Well this'll be a nice suspension for Dan Paille, after his "forearm to the back of Alexander Burmistrov and shoved the Atlanta rookie face-first into the boards for a hitting-from-behind/boarding penalty" (via CSNNE). Plenty of time to get that Christmas shopping done.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres aren't good at scoring. They're 25th in the league in goals per game, and have just five goals in their last four games. It's really not very pretty at all in Buffalo, on the ice or, y'know, anywhere else.

Calgary Flames: People really want to blame the Flames' problems on a lot of different things, like coaching, general managing and Olli Jokinen(notes). But why is everyone acting like Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) is somehow blameless? The guy's GAA is 2.75 (28th among goalies getting semi-regular time) and his save percentage is .909 (32nd). That's not going to win anybody any games.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes had a decent afternoon on Friday. They beat the Bruins in Boston 3-0 behind a 4-for-4 penalty kill and, more importantly, a 3-for-3 power play. And I guess Cam Ward(notes) had 37 saves in a shutout. Which helps.

Chicago Blackhawks: Watch out for the Blackhawks now that everyone on the defense is healthy. Says Stan Bowman, "'Our defense is much better than it was. We didn't have Campbell in the beginning, and that hurt us. ... Now that we have our group together, our consistency has been much better from the defensive side.'' Weird fact, though: They've allowed 15 goals in their last six games, but 12 of them were in two losses, 7-2 and 5-2.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs got just their second sellout of the year in Denver on Saturday. In a game featuring the Wild. Huh?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Nikita Filatov(notes) was a healthy scratch on Sunday and you know what that means -- Time to go back to Russia!

Dallas Stars: Brian Sutherby(notes) got in a fight with Cam Janssen(notes) in retaliation for two big hits the Blues' tough guy laid on a couple of Stars. Sutherby quickly realized his mistake.

He was really, really looking for the linesmen to step in there.

Detroit Red Wings: Mike Babcock on hot starts: "I've found over the years coaching in this league, as soon as you think you get excited about your team, then you lose four in a row." Hey man, no one's been excited about Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto or the Islanders this year, and those guys lose four in a row all the time.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers sure are terrible at the start of games, says the Edmonton Journal. In the last four first periods, they've been outshot 66-17. Somehow, though, they've tied their opponents in goals, 3-3.

Florida Panthers: I don't really have a timely link for it or anything, but Mike Santorelli(notes) is the Panthers' leading goal scorer through 22 games. With six. And I thought you should know that.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are now ninth in the West as of Sunday morning, having lost three straight. But it's not like they're not killing penalties. They're 38 for their last 38 at home. The problem is offense, since they have just 16 in the last seven games, of which they've gotten a W from just one. That was in a shootout.

Minnesota Wild: A key part of winning at hockey is not giving up four goals in the second period.

Montreal Canadiens: Tomas Plekanec, Montreal's top center, is apparently the best two-way pivot in the league. This link actually says that. I can't figure out why. Now, OK, granted, I think Pavel Datsyuk(notes) is slightly overrated, insofar as he's not as good in both ends of the rink as Sid Crosby is overall. But like, Henrik Sedin(notes)? Maybe Mike Richards(notes) or Ryan Getzlaf(notes)? Don't you think there are a couple guys in front of Plekanec in line for the "Best Two-Way Center" title?

Nashville Predators: There's a flu bug going around the Predators dressing room that seems to be targeting only off-ice personnel. Their equipment manager, assistant coach, two trainers and two assistant equipment managers have all been affected. As has forward Nick Spaling(notes). So like I said, off-ice personnel.

New Jersey Devils: Y'know, I've really been trying to defend Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) a lot this year from what I've felt is a lot of unwarranted criticism.

Kovy, buddy, you ain't helpin'.

New York Islanders: The 14-game losing streak is dead! They don't play again until Thursday, when what will surely be a 15-game losing streak begins.

New York Rangers: Pretty decent scrap as Jordin Tootoo and Sean Avery came out of the box and immediately started throwing hands. Sorry the video quality is so bad, though.

Said Tootoo the next day: "I'm surprise Avery fought me!"

Ottawa Senators: Some day, the Senators aren't going to be terrible. That day is not coming any time soon.

Philadelphia Flyers: Great boohooism over the Pronger/Avery Rule situation over at Broad Street Hockey. Yes, the officials should violate their collective bargaining agreement with the league to explain a painfully obvious call. Good work, everyone.

Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes entered Saturday's game with the Ducks riding a seven-game winning streak. The Ducks had dropped six in a row. Consider the script flipped.

Pittsburgh Penguins: On Saturday, Sid Crosby picked up a hattie, with a power-play goal, an even strength goal, and a shortie into an empty net. Nice stuff. But earlier in the game, he missed a penalty shot. If he had made it, he would've broken former landlord Mario Lemieux's record for scoring all five ways on just four goals. Said Sid, "Oh geez, don't tell me that." In my head, I like to think he went and shoved Lemieux after the game.

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San Jose Sharks: The Sharks are going through a bit of a rough patch in terms of injuries. Scott Nichol(notes) and Devin Setoguchi(notes) didn't play on Saturday due to injury, and in that night's game, both Niclas Wallin(notes) and Kent Huskins(notes) went down with knocks as well. Wallin's looked particularly ugly, as he crashed and got his leg sandwiched between an Oiler and the endboards.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues played the Stars twice this weekend, and blew late leads both nights. The second ended St. Louis' streak of 15 straight home games without a regulation loss.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Guy Boucher, not a fan of the shootout -- "I've never liked them. I've said it before, and I'll say it again a million times. We didn't really get a team win or a team loss. (The shootout) is an individual skill." Not coincidentally, the Lightning lost to the Panthers 4-3 in a shootout.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Must be nice to be Ron Wilson these days. Leafs complete garbage. Can't compete with anyone. Burkie's fault.

Vancouver Canucks: Vancouver will visit the Flames on Wednesday, and Tony Gallagher thinks Calgary's road-weariness will help the Canucks to a win. I don't think the Flames need excuses to lose at this point.

Washington Capitals: This just in -- Good-but-not-great offensive players tend to see their point totals rise when playing alongside Alexander Ovechkin. More on this late-breaking story as it develops.

Gold Star Award

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Big ups to Larry Brooks for this one: "Devils could save season by dealing ... Brodeur." Absolutely. I fully support this idea. It makes a ton of sense.

Minus of the Weekend

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Dan Ellis(notes) and Mike Smith(notes) combined to allow nine goals on 56 shots in two losses this weekend. That isn't very good at all.

Play of the Weekend

This is a very nice feed from Ovie to Alex Semin, don't you think?

Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week

User "pookeo9" is a Leafs fan who would like to get rid of He Who Must Not Be Traded.

To NYR

Tomas Kaberle(notes)

To TOR

Sean Avery

Brandon Dubinsky(notes)

Signoff

"Gomer upsets Sergeant Carter." Oh, I'll never forget that episode.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can email him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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