Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said he thinks Dmitry Kulikov is playing with a little more enthusiasm of late.
Kulikov doesn’t know if there’s anything to that, other than he has scored a few goals lately allowing him to do a little celebrating.
Those two goals have been big ones, too. Both of Kulikov’s goals have come in the past four games — and both were game-winners.
Kulikov’s overtime shot on March 30 beat the Devils 3-2; his heavy wrister Sunday was the difference in a 2-1 win over the Senators.
“Obviously it feels good to win, but I don’t think my game has changed at all,” Kulikov said with a smile. “But when you are able to score some goals, you get a chance to look like a happy guy out there. I’m just trying to play the best I can, help us win some games.”
This has been one strange season for the 22-year-old defenseman. Kulikov came to Florida for the start of training camp after an offseason in Russia, only to have the NHL owners lock out the players.
After a few days of working out with his Florida teammates, Kulikov left to play in the KHL.
Kulikov had a mini-holdout once the lockout ended but was in Florida in time for the season opener. Citing severe jet lag after racing back from Russia, Kulikov missed the opener and didn’t make his season debut until the second game in Ottawa a few days later.
“The lockout played its role this year but otherwise it’s been a regular year,” said Kulikov. “We had a lot of injuries out of the lockout, but we shouldn’t make excuses. We’re all in this together.”
Last week, Kulikov’s name started popping up on the rumor sheets as teams came to the Panthers to see if they would move him.
Now in his fourth NHL season, Kulikov is still a work in progress.
The 14th overall pick in 2009, Kulikov continues to improve on the defensive end. Kulikov’s offensive numbers haven’t been much in the NHL as he has two goals in 28 games this season. His career high was six goals scored two seasons ago.
General manager Dale Tallon said he never considered moving Kulikov, a player he says he likes and thinks is part of the Panthers’ future. Kulikov signed a two-year deal with the Panthers at the end of the lockout so he is signed through next season.
“He seems to have a nice energy right now,” Dineen said. “He’s playing well, and it looks like he is enjoying himself out at the rink every day. He’s an easy teammate to be around. We play a game, and you go out there and there are a lot of things that make it a business. But, it’s still a game. They should enjoy it.”
This and that
The Panthers took Tuesday off after a rare afternoon practice Monday at the BB&T Center.
The team had a busy Monday as players took their 2013 team photo before practice, then had an informal meet-and-greet with season ticket holders afterward.
“I told them to enjoy the day off,” Dineen said. “I think it’s great they get to interact with our fans. It’s extremely important. I look forward to it because I think we have a great group of guys who, when you meet them, is a great experience for both the player and the fan.”
The Panthers will practice in Coral Springs on Wednesday morning before flying to Winnipeg to play the Jets for the final time as divisional opponents. Winnipeg, which was known as the Atlanta Thrashers two seasons ago, will move to the Western Conference next year.
“It’s a long way to go for one game,” Dineen said. “This one sticks out. We’ve always built that into a trip, but now it’s going to take a little work to get there and to get home.”