A season ago, Viktor Kozlov quietly put together a borderline-great season as he found good chemistry with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and Bruce Boudreau rode the trio throughout the regular season. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Caps have struggled a bit in his absences this season.
To be sure, there's a rather large handful of players more vital to the Caps' success than the team's fourth-most popular Russian, but Kozlov is what Puck Daddy would call a Lebowski Rug player - "a guy who you don't realize ties the room together until he's gone.... But, unlike the 'unsung hero,' a player whose loss a team can sometimes overcome."
With Kozlov in the lineup, the Caps are 31-13-3; without Kozlov, they're 3-3-1. With Kozlov, they're averaging 3.36 goals per game; without Kozlov, 2.86. With Kozlov in the lineup, Ovechkin has 35 goals in 50 games; without Kozlov, two goals in seven. And while I wouldn't draw any conclusions from this small a sample, there is a certain, um, certainty that having a healthy Viktor provides. With Kozlov in the lineup, they're averaging roughly four different line combinations per game, and without him that number jumps to somewhere around 479,001,600. (Note: I'm not too sure on that last stat.)
More than stability, though, Kozlov brings something to the top line that isn't easily replaced in terms of puck possession, forechecking and defensive responsibility (despite what his plus/minus dropping off a cliff from last season's +28 rating to this year's -3 might imply). And, of course, Kozlov is a point-producer and one who has 28 points in his last 37 games, including as many power-play assists over that span (10) as all but three Caps have on the season, despite ranking sixth among the team's forwards in power-play ice time.
Point being, the Caps miss Kozlov and are a much better team with him in the lineup (though we could all probably hazard a guess as to why he wasn't rushed back for either of the last two games). Now, if he could only carry over his regular season performance to the playoffs, the Caps would really be in business...
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Two more articles on the VC ice, and these are from a mainstream outlets (the WTimes and WaPo). Houston, we have a problem? Update: OFB chimes in as well... New power rankings are out, with the Caps up two to fourth at The Hockey News (where they tease me in their Ducks blurb), down one to fifth at TSN.ca, holding at fifth at Sportsnet.ca, down one to fourth at CBSSports.com and SportingNews.com, and up two to second (!) at ESPN.com.... XM204's Shawn Lavigne has some questions, including a pretty popular one right off the bat.... Joe Finley talks concussions (h/t WCHB).... Hershey's "Think Green Night" promotion apparently has nothing to do with their former blueliner.... Maxime "Max II" Daigneault is still toiling around the minors, apparently.... Finally, on this date back in 2000, Olie Kolzig recorded his 15th career shutout, breaking Jim Carey's franchise mark of 14. Kolzig would go on to post another 20 shutouts as a Cap.