This week's edition of the NHL southern California power rankings takes a look at free agent acquisitions. Riveting! What offseason moves have or haven't worked out for the Ducks and Kings? Without further ado, here are the power rankings for Week 6:
Anaheim Ducks (2-1-1)
If we're judging teams by their free agent acquisitions, the Ducks deserve to be in first place simply for their signing of Toni Lydman. Lydman signed for $3 million a season over three seasons and then promptly missed the beginning of the season with double vision. The Ducks suffered in without Lydman, going 1-3 in his absence. Since then? The Ducks are 9-5-1.
Lydman has been paired mostly with Lubomir Visnovsky, the Ducks' best defenseman and their top offensive threat from the back end. Lydman works well with Visnovsky because he's more steady and apt to hang back, allowing Visnovsky more opportunity to jump into the play. It's not so much Lydman that you're going to notice; he's effective because he allows other players to perform to the best of their ability. In the four games Lydman missed, Visnovsky had 0 even strength points and was -3; in the 16 games Lydman has played, Visnovsky has 10 even strength points (3 goals, 7 assists) and has been +8. That's not to say Lydman has been completely invisible on the ice; he has 8 points and is +11 so far. That pairing has been a key to the Ducks' success recently.
Lydman is probably the best even-strength player on a team that is composed of mostly special-teams defenseman. With Lydman in the lineup, coach Randy Carlyle can play the Lydman-Visnovsky pairing in tough minutes while sheltering less effective even-strength players like Paul Mara, Andreas Lilja and Luca Sbisa. Then, on special teams, Visnovsky can headman the power play unit while Lydman leads the penalty killers.
Lydman is really the key to the whole thing; all he has to do is be steady and not make mistakes and Anaheim's entire blue line gets exponentially better. So far he's done that and more.
Los Angeles Kings (Last week: 2-1)
The Kings, meanwhile, are struggling without their two big free agent signings, defenseman Willie Mitchell and winger Alexei Ponikarovsky. I wrote the following when Mitchell got injured:
The pairing I'm going to watch tonight is Johnson-Greene. Both are big and strong, but both are also kind of... situationally unaware. Is that a nice way to say "dumb?" Johnson often plays too safe on defense, almost as if he's afraid of getting burned, while Greene can sometimes forget that he's a big ox and take a bad penalty. They need to play good defense and Greene is going to have to play smart enough to cover for Johnson's mistakes. How that pairing does will go a long way in determining how the Kings fare in Mitchell's absence.
How have they done? Well, the Kings have allowed five even-strength goals in the two games since I wrote that and the Johnson-Greene pairing has been on the ice for four of them so... not a good start.
Meanwhile, the Kings have also struggled to fill Ponikarovsky's spot on the Kings' shutdown line. Brad Richardson did a serviceable job on that line, but the recent loss of Scott Parse has forced the Kings to move Richardson up to the top line. Even when Richardson was on that line, though, the line wasn't as effective as it was with Ponikarovsky because it changed the line's identity. Ponikarovksy, Michal Handzus, and Wayne Simmonds are all big guys and together they formed, as Dallas Stars commentator Darryl Reaugh colorfully put it, the "Large Humans" line. Richardson is a little, speedy guy, and he came up short in the corners, the area of the ice where Ponikarovksy excels.
The Kings are going to try to rekindle that Large Humans line with recent call-up Dwight King (6'3", 227 lbs.). The aptly-named King is a big boy and does his work in front of the net, allowing Handzus and Simmonds to work the corners. Hopefully he can fill the rather large shoes of Alexei Ponikarovsky.
Both Mitchell and Ponikarovsky were extremely important to the Kings' even-strength success; they played the 3rd and 4th toughest minutes, respectively, on the Kings, according to Behind the Net. The Kings still need to find a way to replace those minutes soon, otherwise they won't be at the top of the Western Conference for much longer.
Tonight: Anaheim Ducks @ Minnesota Wild, 5 PM; Los Angeles Kings vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 PM
Friday: Los Angeles Kings @ Buffalo Sabres, 4:30 PM; Anaheim Ducks vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:00 PM
Saturday: Los Angeles Kings @ Boston Bruins, 4:00 PM
Sunday: Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers, 5:00 PM
Monday: Los Angeles Kings vs. Ottawa Senators, 4:30 PM