Dmitry Kulikov has played only 38 games this season. ©2017, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Dmitry Kulikov still struggling

BUFFALO – In his first and probably only season here, defenseman Dmitry Kulikov has performed so poorly – the Russian has one goal, two points and a wretched minus-17 rating – the Sabres couldn’t even get a late-round pick for him before Wednesday’s trade deadline.

So the Sabres have Kulikov for 18 more games. Of course, that doesn’t mean coach Dan Bylsma will play him.

Kulikov, 26, could become a healthy scratch if he doesn’t improve soon.

“I had a discussion with him today post-deadline,” Bylsma said prior to Thursday’s 6-3 win against the Arizona Coyotes inside KeyBank Center. “He’s a guy that needs to play better. … He potentially, yes, could come out of the lineup if he doesn’t find his game here in the last (18) games.”

Kulikov has battled a lower-back bruise since getting knocked into an open bench door in his preseason debut, an injury that has limited him to 38 games. The first half of the season, he said, “there was always something bugging me with that injury.”

Still, Kulikov has been healthy enough to stay in the lineup the last five weeks.

“It’s been difficult,” Kulikov said. “When you come to a new team, you want to make a good impression, you can’t really do it being in the medical room.”

Kulikov figured to draw interest before the deadline because he compiled a strong body of work over his first seven seasons. Not even a year ago, he was a stud during Florida’s opening-round playoff series.

That performance impressed the Sabres so much they acquired him June 25.

Did Kulikov expect to leave Wednesday?

“There wasn’t any talk between me and (general manager Tim Murray), so I wasn’t expecting anything,” he said. “I knew my name was out there, I was just watching it closely.”

Kulikov, however, said he doesn’t feel like he did in April. With so many games, he doesn’t have the proper recovery time for his injury.

“I’m working hard, trying to get my form back,” he said. “With that amount of games and that little rest time, you can maintain it, but you can’t get better at certain things. Just take it day-by-day and try to manage it.”

In other news, thanks to no deadline activity, there were some relieved players in the dressing room Thursday morning.

“Yesterday was a little bit of a stressful day, there’s no way around that,” Sabres defenseman Cody Franson said. “I’m very happy with the turnout. I enjoy it here. I like it here. I’d like to remain here. When I didn’t get the call, I was happy.”

He added: “I had a good sleep last night. That was nice.”

Sabres captain Brian Gionta probably slept well, too. Gionta, who could only be dealt to five teams, said Murray called him Wednesday.

“I’m thankful for the open dialogue,” he said. “I thought we had a pretty good conversation.”

Gionta, 38, was adamant before the deadline he wanted to stay. He understands what Murray did will be noticed around the league.

“That’s what we’re trying to build here is a place that people want to come to, a place that’s on the rise and has that stability,” Gionta said.

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