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Panthers: For Kozlov, whatever it takes - South Florida Sun-Sentinel
By Michael Russo
He still doesn't score as much as his talent dictates he should, but Viktor Kozlov might be playing as complete a game as he has in six years as a Panther.
Over the past few weeks, Kozlov, known for his skill and not his grit, has blocked shots and thrown checks. His board play has been impeccable and his defensive play has been impressive all year, proven by his plus-four rating the past 16 games.
"Kozlov is playing his best hockey," coach Mike Keenan said. "I know we talk a lot about Olli [Jokinen] and Olli deserves all the credit in the world, but Kozzie's really stepped up his game as well.
"He commands a lot of ice time and a lot of respect. He controls the play and has been assertive in his play."
But being physical and blocking shots is usually not in Kozlov's game.
"The team's in a situation where we need to win as many games as possible," Kozlov said. "I try to give on the ice everything I have to help the team to win. Whether it's blocking shots or hitting somebody, I am trying to do something besides just offense."
Jokinen centered Kozlov, normally a center, on his right wing for most of the season, but over the past three games, Keenan separated Jokinen and Kozlov by having them center separate lines.
It's been Kozlov, with Marcus Nilson and Valeri Bure on each side, who have made up the Panthers' most effective line since. Keenan made the move to separate Jokinen and Kozlov when he saw in the first period Wednesday that Hurricanes centers Ron Francis and Rod Brind'Amour were dominating.
The Panthers wound up coming back to win, and Keenan used the same setup in a 2-0 win at Carolina on Friday.
"I told Kozlov before [Wednesday's game] to be prepared to play either center or wing or both," Keenan said. "Moving him to center builds depth down the middle where we need it.
"I could see [Francis and Brind'Amour] were going to be too dominant against any of our other centermen. Stephen [Weiss] is not ready for the competition against those two players, nor is [Jaroslav] Bednar or Nilson. Jokinen and Kozlov have the experience and the size and strength to deal with the top centers in the league."
Kozlov has three goals in the past five games, but he's also had some unbelievable scoring chances that he hasn't been able to finish. He has five goals in 20 games, much fewer than he should for the elusive, hard shot he possesses.
"I just have to keep shooting and hopefully the puck goes in," Kozlov said.
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