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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.

Have a question for Alain? Be sure to ask him through twitter @apoupartFins.


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 / From The Press Box
By Alain Poupart  - FloridaPanthers.com
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Kuli\u2019s Comeback
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov has taken his game up a notch since he was a healthy scratch a couple of months ago
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.”

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 MTL 64 41 18 5 172 142 87
2 NYR 63 39 17 7 197 155 85
3 NYI 65 41 21 3 207 182 85
4 TBL 65 39 20 6 213 171 84
5 DET 62 36 15 11 182 160 83
6 PIT 63 36 18 9 182 158 81
7 WSH 65 35 20 10 193 162 80
8 BOS 62 31 22 9 165 161 71
9 FLA 64 28 23 13 156 181 69
10 OTT 62 28 23 11 176 167 67
11 PHI 64 27 25 12 170 186 66
12 NJD 64 27 27 10 144 165 64
13 TOR 64 26 33 5 173 195 57
14 CBJ 63 26 33 4 163 201 56
15 CAR 62 24 31 7 144 167 55
16 BUF 64 19 40 5 123 215 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
N. Bjugstad 64 22 16 -9 38
J. Huberdeau 61 9 28 3 37
A. Ekblad 64 11 23 7 34
J. Jokinen 63 6 28 -1 34
B. Boyes 62 11 21 8 32
J. Jagr 60 12 19 -10 31
J. Hayes 55 17 12 -4 29
B. Campbell 64 3 20 2 23
A. Barkov 53 10 12 -5 22
V. Trocheck 34 5 11 8 16
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 23 16 11 .921 2.37
A. Montoya 5 7 2 .888 3.08
 
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