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Panthers scratch Kulikov, who’s ‘surprised’ by decision

Source: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images North America

Source: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images North America

Florida head coach Peter Horachek made good on his threat Tuesday, making defenseman Dmitry Kulikov a healthy scratch after hinting the 23-year-old was on his way to the press box.

“Yeah,” Horachek replied when asked about dropping Kulikov from the lineup following a poor game on Saturday against Pittsburgh.

“I think we’re at that point.”

On Monday, Horachek backed off that proclamation, praising Kulikov’s talent while getting veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski to work with the Russian rearguard.

But on Tuesday, Horachek followed through on his original statement and dropped Kulikov from the lineup for tonight’s affair against Ottawa. It’s the first game Kulikov will miss this season, a development that appears to have caught him off guard.

“I don’t think I was playing bad enough to get thrown out of the lineup, but it’s the coach’s decision,” he explained. “I was surprised.”

Given Florida’s position in the standings and GM Dale Tallon’s assertion that he’s open for business, it’s likely this decision will lead to speculation about Kulikov’s future.

The former first-round pick is averaging close to 20 minutes per night and is in the last of a two-year, $5 million extension. While talented, he appears to have regressed over the last two seasons after a tremendous sophomore campaign (26 points in 72 games) and third year (in which he scored a career-high 28 points in just 58 games, missing extensive time to knee surgery).