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From The Press Box


From The Press Box is a weekly column written by FloridaPanthers.com and NHL.com writer Alain Poupart. Poupart has been covering the Panthers and the NHL for 20 years.

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Kuli’s Comeback

Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov has taken his game up a notch since he was a healthy scratch a couple of months ago

Wednesday, 01.29.2014 / 1:50 PM ET / From The Press Box
By Alain Poupart  - FloridaPanthers.com
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Kuli\u2019s Comeback
Dmitry Kulikov #7 of the Florida Panthers tangles with Teddy Purcell #16 of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the BB&T Center on December 23, 2013 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov has been on something of a scoring spree of late, with three goals in the past six games. He also was the one who took care of the Panthers’ frustrating power-play drought with a wrist shot through traffic in the third period of the game Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins.

But forget about the scoring. That’s all fine and good, but that’s not what’s important about Kulikov’s play of late. Put very simply, Kulikov is playing some of the best hockey we’ve seen from him since he joined the Panthers as a first-round pick in 2009. More to the point, we’re seeing the reasons he was a first-round pick in the first place.


Kulikov’s recent surge came after head coach Peter Horachek decided to make him a healthy scratch for a home game against the Ottawa Senators back on Dec. 3. The decision certainly had some shock value at the time because Kulikov has so long been seen as a young player with tremendous upside and also because it was the first time in his career he had been a healthy scratch.

But the reality is that Kulikov wasn’t playing anywhere near his potential at the time, and Horachek decided that taking a step back was perhaps the best way for Kulikov to start moving forward again.

Looking back, is there any doubt that was a great move by Horachek?

At the time of his benching, Kulikov had three points and a minus-9 ratio in 27 games. Since then, Kulikov has eight points in 25 games and his ratio is even.

With his better performance, Kulikov also has seen his ice time increase. He played 20 or more minutes 11 times in the first 27 games; he’s had 16 such games in the past 25. In the impressive 5-1 victory at Pittsburgh on Jan. 20, Kulikov actually led the team in ice time, a distinction that almost invariably always goes to fellow defenseman Brian Campbell.

Kulikov’s roller-coaster ride has become even more relevant in recent days after fellow former first-round pick Erik Gudbranson also was a healthy scratch. The circumstances are a little bit different because part of Gudbranson’s recent struggles, per Horachek, can be attributed to the young defenseman having to adjust to playing with a facemask as the result of his recent orbital bone surgery.

The basic idea, however, is the same: Taking a step back to hopefully take several forward.

One thing for sure, Horachek has to hope for the same results for Gudbranson that he got with Kulikov.

“A month and a half ago we’re all talking about Kuli,” Horachek said after the morning skate in preparation for the game against the Colorado Avalanche last Friday. “And he’s been playing exceptional. He’s on top of his game and he’s playing hard. He can defend and he’s skating well and he’s creating. He’s doing a really good job and that’s when your minutes go up.”

SCHEDULE

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 54 40 10 4 178 124 84
2 FLA 56 32 18 6 153 132 70
3 NYR 55 31 18 6 157 140 68
4 BOS 55 30 19 6 163 150 66
5 DET 55 28 18 9 138 134 65
6 TBL 54 30 20 4 144 130 64
7 NYI 54 29 19 6 153 137 64
8 PIT 54 28 19 7 139 136 63
9 NJD 56 28 21 7 124 124 63
10 CAR 56 25 21 10 137 146 60
11 PHI 54 24 20 10 128 140 58
12 MTL 56 27 25 4 151 151 58
13 OTT 57 25 26 6 159 177 56
14 CBJ 57 23 28 6 144 175 52
15 BUF 56 22 28 6 131 155 50
16 TOR 54 20 25 9 127 151 49

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Jagr 53 17 23 13 40
J. Huberdeau 56 11 29 10 40
J. Jokinen 56 11 27 12 38
V. Trocheck 56 17 18 2 35
A. Barkov 43 16 19 13 35
R. Smith 56 18 16 11 34
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
A. Ekblad 52 11 13 17 24
B. Campbell 56 5 18 20 23
N. Bjugstad 41 9 10 -5 19
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 24 14 5 .924 2.29
A. Montoya 8 4 1 .926 2.06

 
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