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Productivity from blue line huge for Panthers

by Steve Hunt
DALLAS -- As the Florida Panthers get set to face the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center, one of the big storylines for Kevin Dineen's club in tonight's matchup could be how much production the Panthers get from the blue line.

That's because through its first 17 games, Florida has gotten 48 points from its defensemen. Brian Campbell leads the way with 16 points and currently leads the team with 15 assists, but Dmitry Kulikov has also done his part with his 12 helpers, second on the club.

"Yeah, that's something that we pride ourselves on. The League is a very hard-working, defensive league. It's hard to score goals," Dineen said. "We have to have more than one layer to have success. And certainly our D has been very productive not just on the score sheet but keeping us in the offensive zone. They've done a good job."

Panthers winger Kris Versteeg, who currently leads the team with 8 goals, has definitely noticed a huge positive difference with the likes of Campbell and Kulikov contributing on both ends of the ice.

"They make a lot of great plays on power plays and on 5-on-5 they make it easy on everyone coming up the ice. They can make a difficult pass at times and they can make a simple pass at times, too," Versteeg said. "They've been big for us. We're going to need their success going forward for us to be successful."

And it never hurts getting such solid production from the back end, especially from the perspective that it takes some pressure off the offensive guys to produce more.

"It definitely helps," Versteeg said. "Our defense is a big part of this team. Whether it's from the offensive and defensive perspective, we've got a really solid D core."

Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan is well aware of the considerable impact that Campbell, Kulikov and the rest of the Florida rearguard could have on tonight's contest and expects his Stars to be ready to handle such a challenge.

"Those guys just give them such a dynamic," Gulutzan said. "They can move up on the play. They're not afraid to involve themselves on the rush. They can improvise pretty well and make plays. They can ramp up the pace a little bit and can go."

But the Stars coach offered a simple solution when asked how they can help minimize the damage Florida can do from the blue line tonight.

"We're going to have to be making sure we play a little bit of a grinding game, a little harder on those guys so they're not up on the play all the time," Gulutzan said. "We're going to have to be wary of those guys. I know how they play. They're going to play hard."

Florida heads into tonight's game after a 3-2 home loss to the Flyers on Sunday. And considering the Panthers are 6-3-0 on the road this year, tying them with several other clubs for most road victories in the league, getting away from home is never a bad thing.

Dineen even offered a lighthearted take on why his team has been so much better on the road than at home so far this year.

"I think undercoaching [has been the difference]," Dineen said. "You get home and you start matching lines. You get on the road, we roll them and that seems to help. That's something that we talked about at the beginning of the year that we wanted to have a solid road record. We've met a few tests but tonight will be a great one for us."
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