Nothing against Florida assistant coaches John Madden and Robb Tallas, but Dave Bolland was getting a little sick of their company.
As Bolland worked his way back into the lineup after sitting out almost two months with a groin injury, Madden and Tallas were in charge of his on-ice conditioning.
That meant hours and hours on the ice working up to Monday’s return in St. Louis.
Bolland, 28, played 22 shifts over 14 minutes 55 seconds in his first game since getting hurt Oct.17 in Buffalo, New York.
“It’s been a little too much skating with Madden and Tallas,’’ Bolland said when asked if he felt like he was in game shape.
“I’m glad I’m not hanging out with them anymore.’’
Bolland is a very important piece to the Panthers and was the cornerstone of general manager Dale Tallon’s free agent signings on July1.
Bolland, who spent six seasons with Chicago before playing in Toronto last season, is a strong defensive center who will take pressure off Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trocheck as he draws the tougher assignments.
“He’s been skating well the past couple of weeks, so we’re not rushing him back,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “He’s a good player for us.’’
Bolland said that while it was tough to sit out and watch the team, he has been impressed by Florida’s young players.
“They’ve been playing great and that’s the main thing,” Bolland said. “Whether you’re in or out of the lineup and the team’s winning, that’s the main thing.
“As long as the younger guys are progressing, they’re going to push me and I’m going to push them. That’s the way it goes.’’
On Monday, Bolland was paired up with Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim as Aleksander Barkov works his way back from a hand injury.
“He competed, he battled and he killed some penalties for us,’’ Gallant said of Bolland, who was credited with three hits Monday.
“For the first game back after a long layoff, he was real good.’’
Goalie Roberto Luongo didn’t have much “puck luck’’ in Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Blues as the three goals he allowed were all deflected by another player before he could make the save.
The first two St.Louis goals went off of Florida players. The first hit Trocheck’s skate and went in; the second went off Jonathan Huberdeau’s stick.
The game-winning goal came on a long shot from Barret Jackman that was deflected by St. Louis’ Chris Porter, sending the puck skipping off the ice and past the Florida goalie with just under two minutes to play.
“The last one was really the only one they scored,’’ Luongo said. “It was a great tip by the guy, he tipped it off the ice and it went in top corner.
“It’s tough to read those and unfortunately it came at a crucial point in the game. It’s a tough one.’’
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman played down the possibility of relocating the Panthers and Arizona Coyotes.
One day after putting the brakes on the prospect of expansion, Bettman reaffirmed Panthers owner Vinny Viola’s commitment to South Florida. There had been reports that Panthers ownership was trying to position the franchise for a move either to Quebec City or Las Vegas, two locales actively pursuing a hockey team.
“There’s nothing imminent that’s happening,” Bettman said Tuesday at the owners’ meetings in Boca Raton. “In fact to the contrary, Vinny Viola, both as a matter of his resources and his personal commitment, has consistently told me that he’s committed to South Florida.
“Nobody should be focusing on the Panthers as a relocation candidate, period. It’s inconsistent with everything we believe, and it’s inconsistent with everything Vinny Viola has been telling me and he has no intention of moving the club.”
▪ Gallant said that although Shawn Thornton sat out to make room for Bolland on Monday, it wasn’t a benching. Thornton was battling a slight groin pull last week and was forced back in when Barkov got hurt in Columbus, Ohio.
“It’s nothing serious,’’ Gallant said. “There’s aches and pains. But I didn’t sit him out.’’
▪ Radio voice Randy Moller missed his third consecutive game due to an illness. After being replaced by Craig Minervini and Jiggs McDonald in the first two games, Fox Florida’s Frank Forte filled in Monday.
▪ The Panthers took Tuesday off and traveled to Michigan where they will spend the next few days in Detroit.
The team plans to practice in Grosse Point Pointe on Wednesday with Thursday’s afternoon workout at Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s good, we have a day off and then two days in Detroit to practice,’’ said Gallant, who spent a decade playing for the Red Wings.
This report was supplemented with material from Miami Herald wire services.