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 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Jagr 79 27 39 23 66
J. Jokinen 81 18 42 25 60
A. Barkov 66 28 31 18 59
J. Huberdeau 76 20 39 17 59
V. Trocheck 76 25 28 15 53
R. Smith 82 25 25 19 50
A. Ekblad 78 15 21 18 36
N. Bjugstad 67 15 19 -8 34
B. Campbell 82 6 25 31 31
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

 
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