Gudbranson (orbital bone) has ‘played poorly since he’s had that cage on,’ so Florida healthy scratched him

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Panthers d-man Erik Gudbranson played with a full face cage for nine games since undergoing orbital bone surgery in December, and head coach Peter Horachek saw enough to keep Gudbranson from dressing in No. 10.

On Sunday, Horachek made his prized young blueliner a healthy scratch for a 5-4 shootout win over Detroit, explaining that Gudbranson’s play has gone downhill since donning the protective gear.

“The bottom line is he really hasn’t played well,” Horachek said, per the Miami Herald. “He has played poorly since he’s had that cage on.”

The move probably didn’t come as a huge shock given Horachek had trimmed Gudbranson’s minutes in recent games. The 22-year-old rearguard played just 11:15 in last week’s win over Pittsburgh and hasn’t seen more than 16 minutes in any of his last seven games.

Still, the move is curious. Florida’s first-round pick (third overall) at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Gudbranson had seven points in 37 games prior to getting hurt, averaging around 20 minutes a night (he played a season-high 23:29 in a Dec. 3 loss to Ottawa).

Horachek sounded somewhat sympathetic to Gudbranson’s plight — “it’s difficult for a player to wear that cage when he’s not used to it,” he explained — but said that he had to do what was best for the team.

“We’ve been going with six guys, now we have a healthy guy [Dylan Olsen] back,” Horacheck said. “You have to make decisions. He has to learn from it.”