For the Florida Panthers to make the post-season, everything has to go right in 2015-16. They’re a talented group, but not one that can afford to lose key members to injury for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, the Cats will have to deal with just that.
In Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Panthers blueliner Dmitry Kulikov suffered a lower-body injury that will put him on the shelf for at least a week, according to the Miami Herald’s George Richards. Richards added that Kulikov is scheduled to undergo an MRI, but the extent of the injury, or just how long Kulikov could be out, is uncertain at this point. It could be just one week, but there’s the possibility he could be on the sideline longer.
The injury appeared to come on a hit from Lightning winger J.T. Brown, who crunched Kulikov into the boards early in the second period of Saturday’s game. Kulikov looked to be skating gingerly following the hit from Brown and didn’t take a single shift after leaving the ice post-hit:
Kulikov has found himself as part of the second pairing in Florida this season and is seeing his lowest average ice time since his rookie season. Through 17 games, Kulikov has logged roughly 19 minutes per game while mustering just three points, all assists. His 14-point pace is the worst scoring clip of his career, but the 25-year-old is one of the smoothest skaters on the Panthers.
Drafted by the Panthers in the first round, 14th overall, of the 2009 draft, Kulikov was a standout in the QMJHL and has shown steady growth over his six seasons in the NHL. Of the big minute blueliners in Florida, Kulikov has faced the third-highest quality of competition and has been taking the bulk of his starts in the defensive zone.
Kulikov has a history of knee and lower-body injuries, so the immediate concern is that he may be dealing with a related ailment at this time. In 2009-10, Kulikov missed 14 games with a knee injury, and missed another 23 contests in 2011-12 following surgery on his knee. In November 2014, Kulikov sprained his left knee, but it’s hard to tell which leg Kulikov was favoring following the hit by Brown.
With Kulikov out, Panthers coach Gerrard Gallant will have to put more pressure on Aaron Ekblad and Brian Campbell to increase their presence in defensive scenarios. Kulikov’s ability as a two-way blueliner has allowed Ekblad and Campbell to start less than 22 percent of their shifts in the Florida zone, meaning the Panthers’ top offensive pairing is able to focus almost solely on putting points on the board instead of shutting down the opposition’s top forwards.
(Video via SomeHockeyVideos)