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Kulikov to warm the bench.
4 декабря 2013 года. Fialkov, Harvey. South Florida Sun - Sentinel

Panthers coach Peter Horachek had seen enough after another turnover by defenseman Dmitry Kulikov led directly to a goal by the Penguins in Saturday's 5-1 loss.

Horachek told the Sun Sentinel after the game that he had reached the point of sitting the mistake-prone defenseman, and on Tuesday he lived up to his word by making Kulikov a healthy scratch for the first time this season against the Ottawa Senators.

Kulikov, the 14th draft pick in 2009 by the Panthers and a projected top-two defenseman, was replaced by veteran defenseman Mike Mottau, who spent last season in the minors.

Kulikov, who's only 23 but in his fifth NHL season, was surprised by the scratch when he met with the media after an extra skating session following morning skate.

"I think most of this is mental," said Kulikov, who has three points in 23 games with a minus-9 on-ice rating and 14 turnovers. "The mistakes I have made weren't forced. I shouldn't have made them. What happened, happened, just work hard to get it out of me and not worry about it.

"I don't think I was playing bad enough to get thrown out of the lineup, but it's the coach's decision. Yeah, so I was surprised."

Kulikov, in the final year of a two-year deal worth $5 million, has been the subject of constant trade rumors, but his value has certainly dropped due to a second straight mediocre season.

For a defenseman known more for his offensive prowess than physical play, Kulikov has drawn an inordinate amount of penalties, already amassing 35 PIMs or 10 below his career high.

Kulikov's tripping penalty on Saturday set up a Penguins' power-play goal and his errant pass handed them their final goal which must've been the proverbial last straw for Horachek.

"They have to be accountable to their teammates, and when we decide that it's best for him, sometimes it's good just to sit back and see it," Horachek told NHL.com. "And you come back with a whole new approach to the game. Nobody wants to be in that situation, but sometimes it's just necessary.

"It's definitely mental," Horachek said recently. "He's fighting it a little bit; and he's going to find his way."
For now, Kulikov will have to find his way from the pressbox with the popcorn-eating media. 

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