Physically, it doesn’t really make sense that Tobias Enstrom has Dustin Byfuglien’s back.
The notion that Enstrom, who’s generously – and we mean generously – listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, is always there for Byfuglien just seems a little funny when you consider he probably gives up close to 100 pounds to his hulking blueline partner.
Of course, it’s not in the head-smashing sense that the diminutive Swede comes to the rescue. It’s all about the fact Enstrom is quite likely the most underrated defenseman in the league and his rock-solid play with and without the puck is a huge reason Byfuglien has been able to blossom into an offensive force.
Moving Byfuglien back to defense was clearly a stroke of genius on behalf of the Thrashers, but almost equally as important was the decision to pair him with Enstrom.
“He’s been super,” said Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay. “When Buff’s up and gets caught, Tobby’s saved the day. They’re a great pair together, the big guy and the little guy.
“Tobby is so good without the puck, but he’s good when he gets it. He’s very composed with it and he holds it and gives Buff a chance, sometimes, to get wound up and get going. Together they’ve been just great, Mutt and Jeff, and it’s really great and wonderful to watch.”
Enstrom really has been a revelation in Atlanta, displaying all the characteristics of a classic ice-in-the-veins Swedish rearguard. There’s no panic in his game, no unneeded urgency; just a thinking-man’s approach to defending and attacking. Despite his small stature, the 26-year-old Enstrom hasn’t missed a game since joining the league for the 2007-08 season. He’s on pace for 63 points this year, a noticeable spike over his previous best of 50, set last season.
Enstrom was actually taken just six slots ahead of Byfuglien in the 2003 draft, way down at No. 239. Now, No. 39 is a big reason why Atlanta is challenging for the Southeast Division lead and asserting itself as a team to be reckoned with.
As for his chemistry with Byfuglien, Enstrom says their only plan of attack is to go out there and have fun and Ramsay certainly believes Byfuglien’s go-for-broke attitude rubs off on his teammates.
“He’s up ice a lot, which we encourage,” Ramsay said. “But his level of enthusiasm is so great that guys just buy in. They like watching it and you love to see somebody who goes out and tries to make a difference each and every shift.”
Just don’t forget about the little guy who enables ‘Big Buff’ to do his thing.
GAME OF THE MONTH: Enstrom was on fire during a drubbing of Toronto, notching two goals and two assists for the first four-point night of his career.
RISING: Drew Doughty was a Norris finalist last year, but was slowed by injury earlier this season. The sublime skater is getting back to his, uh, young self again as the Kings try to scale the Western Conference standings.
FALLING: Zdeno Chara is still a monster for the B’s, but he’s on pace for 33 points and should be putting up more than that.
MAKING THE CASE
Dustin Byfuglien has already surprassed his previous single-seaosn high of 36 points and tops all blueliners in that category.
Keeps breaking new ground; potted the first hat trick of his career on Dec. 15 against St. Louis.
Only Byfuglien has more points (37) from the blueline than Letang’s 31.
Already just one off his single-season best goal total of six.
Has really meshed well with Ryan O’Byrne after the big man was brought in from Montreal.
Played more than 30 minutes in a Dec. 21 game against Edmonton that didn’t go to overtime after Sharks were forced to go with four defensemen for two periods due to injuries.
Finally got his first goal of the season 32 games in, making his 25 assists a little less lonely.
Every Ducks defenseman has a minus rating except Visnovsky, who’s even, and Toni Lydman, who is somehow plus-17.
Only Boyle and Chicago’s Duncan Keith average more ice time per game.
Helped the Kings go 3-2 on a recent five-game road trip with seven points in that span.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Avs rookie Kevin Shattenkirk has exploded on the scene since being called up in early November. The 14th overall pick from 2007 has 19 points through 23 games, a pace that would translate to 68 points if maintained over a full 82 games. Other notables: Duncan Keith, Brian Rafalski, Marc Staal.
THN.com's Norris Trophy Watch will appear monthly throughout the season and don't miss out as we'll also track the Hart, Vezina and Jack Adams.