Theme: “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself”
That is an old Zen proverb, and in a peculiar way applies to Viktor Kozlov. A player of considerable natural skill, Kozlov has had the look of an underachiever often in his career. Coming into the season, he averaged 19-34-53, +1, per-82 games over his 12 seasons with four teams. One thinks he could average five more goals and ten more assists than that. The thinking was that pairing him with the likes of Alex Ovechkin could awaken a slumbering giant…or at least get him to approach his thought-of potential. What did he finish with? 16-38-54…pretty close to his 82-game averages.
In fact, Kozlov’s 2007-2008 season was of the consistency that marked Ovechkin’s only writ smaller…
In every ten-game split, from five to nine points…in every one scoring 1-3 goals (except for a five-goal outburst fueled by a pair of two-goal performances that included a power play goal in each instance – his only power play goals and multi-goal games of the year)…a couple of penalty minutes or so. His longest points-scoring streak was a modest four games (achieved three times). His longest streak without a point was four games (in October). There simply wasn’t anything that jumped out of his ten-game splits.
There was that +28, though. He was+30 over his final 59 games, with only ten games in the minus column. Only twice in those last 59 games did he have as many as two minus games in any three. One could argue that such a result was a product of playing alongside Ovechkin (himself a plus-28). Well, perhaps. Or did his style of play – one that did not lend itself to statistical gratification – complement Ovechkin’s style to permit such production?
There is one other matter. Loathe as we are to even discuss the concept, Kozlov was brought here in part to address a glaring shortcoming the Caps had last year – achieving success in the Gimmick. Coming into the season, Kozlov was 13-of-25 in shootout attempts (52 percent). Seven of those goals were game-winners. This year, Kozlov connected on three of seven attempts, one of them being a game-winner. Part of the result is the product of the Caps only participating in eight Gimmicks this year (only four teams participated in fewer). The best that might be said for Kozlov's shootout performance is that it was the same as that achieved by Daniel Briere (ok, Alexander Semin, too...three-for-seven).
From observing him over those 81 games, it appears as if Kozlov simply doesn’t have enough selfishness in his game to ever realize the potential others might have seen for him. But that does not make him a bad fit for this team. He plays a quiet, mindful game that does not appear much in the usual statistical measures to which folks pay attention. He is very adept at lugging the puck and maintaining control of it when closely marked by defenders. He is patient in the offensive zone and acts as a “cool” counterpart to the radiant energy that Ovechkin emits. While not a grinder in the usual sense of the term, he still does a lot of the dirty work in steering the puck into position for others to work their magic.
In an odd sense, he is something of the forward version of former Cap defenseman Joe Reekie. It might have been said of Reekie that he didn’t have particularly noteworthy statistics, but he consistently put up year after year of “plus” seasons (13 straight). Kozlov put up game after game of “plus” results, despite his own statistics not being of elite stature. Was he along for the ride? Or a quiet cog in the machine? Whatever…despite his relatively quiet statistical line and frustratingly lethargic-at-times pace, he was there for many more good things than bad in the Caps’ rush to the playoffs. He has the look of a player who could have much more of an effect on a game, but who seems comfortable (perhaps too much so) with the game he has come to play.
Next year will be an interesting one for Kozlov -- a contract year and one for which there are likely to be greater expectations for the club. But for this year, it is hard to give him a poor grade and hard to give him a high one. We’ll settle for a bit above average…