The defense that started the season looking too sketch to get anything done this year now sports the league leader in +/- for blueliners (Tony Lydman with a +30) and the NHL's top scoring rearguard (Lubomir Visnovsky with 57 points in 69 games played), not to mention a pair of Top 4 caliber babyfaces, who are defying both their pay grade and age. What's more, all four players started the season on the aforementioned sketchy defense.
Daniel, for you, who has been the star of this defense and why?
I have to say Luca Sbisa.There's no denying Lubo and Lydman have been 12 different kinds of awesome for the Ducks. Still, they're a couple of veterans who know their roles and are doing their jobs. Sbisa, on the other hand, hasn't had the easiest road to a consistent job in the NHL. Considering he played some 40 games, including the playoffs, for the Flyers, it was believed he'd be paying immediate dividends for the Ducks in the 2009-10 season. He spent it in Juniors, and then found himself in the AHL for a good part of the beginning of this season. He got back his confidence, and he was a beast when he came back to the NHL.
He began by providing good physical play with Andy Sutton, on the bottom pairing. His hitting picked up, some of those hipchecks were down right intimidating, and the offense followed. He has a good shot, great skating, and his ability to shutdown the opposition seems to be getting better with every game.
Moreover, I think that Sbisa's chemistry with Beauchemin has altered the way I look at the D. We spend a lot of time talking about top 4 and bottom pair defenders. I think the Ducks are in a unique position where they have a top pair, and an interchangeable set of Top 4. Fowler's recent struggles have opened the door for Sbisa and Beauchemin getting more time. Whether that's beause Fowler is hitting a wall, or his partner is, might be debatable. Either way, if Fowler rebounds to be the player of a month ago, then the Ducks could use either pairing as the second half of a Top 4, and still be comfortable. I think the emergence of Sbisa has been a strong factor in the solidification of our D. He gets my nod as a star of our recent blue line success.
I have to give it to the young kids every time I see Sbisa knock a screw loose on a forward or Fowler work the power play. But I think Visnovsky is the obvious answer for a reason.
All season, even if this power play unit couldn't finish, it could move the puck. And Visnovsky has provided that top shot, that hollow point .45 that you have to respect, that the Ducks have been missing, probably since Chris Pronger. You can't just keep an eye on Teemu Selanne. The unit moves the puck so well-- also, in part, thanks to Visnovsky --that they've become a team that you don't want to be shorthanded against. Again, whether they score or not, they can tire out defenders and goaltenders, opening the door for those first few shifts after the power play and forcing the opposition to find its discipline.
At even strength, I think it also does wonders for us to have Visnovsky. Not just his shot, but his puck moving and offense, which complement Lydman. It isn't a defense-first, shotblocking top pairing. It's two guys who play off of each other to get right to you and get back. You can't grind them down without fear of the play coming the other way. He's the most well-paid player back there, but I think he's also been the key piece, the steadiest piece, that has ensured a safe U-turn for the once-troubled corps.