Say what you will about plus/minus, or even his ‘turnover’ stat – Dmitry Kulikov was the lone bright spot on the blue line in last night’s embarrassment of a loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Outside of his assist, Dylan Olsen didn’t do much to stand out – which compared to some of the others that is probably a good thing, but Kulikov’s play gave the Panthers hope for the future, as well something to actually cheer about in last night’s game.
Kulikov was active in the offensive zone, picking up his first career shorthanded goal on a beautiful top shelf wrister from the point. He kept pucks in the zone, aided with puck battles along the wall and finished with three shots on goal.
But all people will see is the minus-3 in the box score the next day. Kulikov was actually on the ice for four goals by the Devils, but the shorthanded goal gave him a ‘plus’. Remember though, a team that as a team is a minus-65 in the goal differential is going to have a lot of ‘minus’ players, even the few that excel in the defensive zone.
But what Kulikov can continue to bring this kind of offensive performances to the table, it will be easier to forget the defensive lapses. Remember, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to pay Kris Letang over $7 million per year AAV, and he is considered an ‘elite’ defenseman because – he creates more than he gives up.
Letang’s defensive game at times is comparable to swiss chesse, plenty of holes. The same goes for Kulikov, who was far from the biggest problem on the ice. Peter Horachek had to realize it because no Panther played more than Kulikov did.
Kulikov is an interesting player to keep an eye on the rest of the season, and going into the offseason. He is a pending restricted free agent, and if they don’t get him signed before free agency, he could get some serious attention for a team with a lot of draft picks and a need for a defenseman.
We all know the offense is there, but if Kulikov is going to get that big contract his potential says he could get – he is going to have to cut down some of the turnovers. Either that or really crank up the offensive numbers. Look at the last two Norris Trophy winners, this is a league that pays for offense – and rewards it.