Awhile back, Bruce Boudreau described Viktor Kozlov as "that round peg in that round hole," citing his size, playmaking and ability to draw defenders as keys to the Capitals game plan, despite a dip in point production this season.
You'd be hard pressed to see Boudreau make such a comment about Michael Nylander, the Swedish center who has handcuffed the Caps with his infamous no movement clause.
For much of the 2008-2009 season, Michael Nylander has been the opposite of Kozlov: His style of play doesn't fit the Caps system, he's had a carousel of linemates and his "circle-first, shoot-later" style has slowed down the Capitals rather than helped them. Fans lament about his line pairings, which frequently match him with players who can drive the net or set up for rebounds, but he never shoots for them.
In more ways than one, Michael Nylander simply doesn't fit this Capitals team's makeup. But to be fair, Nylander does have 22 assists, three less than Kozlov's 25, so to say he's the worst Capital on the team isn't completely justified.
So would it surprise you if I told you that Nylander could be a game changer when the playoffs roll around?
Consider this: Of all current Capitals skaters, Sergei Fedorov's 169 career playoff games leads the team in postseason experience. Nylander is the third most experienced Caps forward in the postseason with 44 games (Brashear is second). In those games, he's registered 12 goals, 22 assists for 34 points and is a plus two.
OK, but that was Nylander then; how about Nylander now?
The key difference in the Nylander we have now, and the Nylander who averaged over a point a game with the Rangers in their postseason attempt two years ago is his linemates. On that team, he was centering Jaromir Jagr; on the current Caps team, it's a rotation of Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, a Hershey call-up and the press box.
In Nyles' defense, he hasn't had much of a line to gel with, but when you have guys like Fehr and Laich, dirty workers who specialize in dirty goals, you simply need to shoot more often to make those guys effective. Unfortunately, shooting isn't Nylander's forte.
The Capitals desperately need secondary scoring; they simply cannot expect Ovechkin, Green and Semin to provide every goal in the postseason. If Nylander can find his groove in the postseason, it could change the Capitals' offensive makeup from a two-line scoring team to a three-line scoring team.
The playoffs are a chance to start anew, and for Nylander a few key assists or a timely goal would wash away his regular season sins -- at least for a moment.