Florida Panthers

Petrovic is back and gives the Florida Panthers a little defensive bite

Alex Petrovic fights Tampa Bay’s Vladislav Namestnikov for the puck at BB&T Center last Thursday night.
Alex Petrovic fights Tampa Bay’s Vladislav Namestnikov for the puck at BB&T Center last Thursday night. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

When Alex Petrovic got hurt in November it didn’t draw the gasps nor the frantic responses which followed the loss of other high-profile players in the Florida Panthers roster.

The loss of Petrovic over the past two months, however, was most definitely felt.

“He kind of goes under the radar,” said coach and general manager Tom Rowe, who coached Petrovic in the minors.

“He’s kind of like [Vincent] Trocheck in that he has gotten better every year. Last year he played great against the Islanders in the playoffs and was playing great to start this season.

“When he went down, internally we knew how much we were going to miss him. Now I think the rest of the league sees that as well.”

Petrovic is considered Florida’s top physical defenseman and his continued improvement was one reason the Panthers felt they could part ways with Erik Gudbranson during the offseason.

Now in his fifth season, Petrovic has grown into a solid NHL defenseman with good size, speed and a smart way of playing the game.

“It sucked,” Petrovic said, “and it’s good to be back. I definitely have a hop in my step right now and a lot of energy, Mentally I feel great; I think this is a great time to return because we’re really coming together as a team right now.”

Petrovic is back playing alongside rookie Mike Matheson and the two seem to have picked up where they left off when Petrovic got hurt in November.

The two seem to play off each other very well as they both have different styles but it works.

“He’s so solid defensively, moves the puck well and our personalities work,” Matheson said. “Petro quietly does a lot of things for us. It could be his size along; I know for me, he would be tough to play against because he’s so big and strong.

“But he moves the puck out of the zone so well; he defends, closes the time and space on the other team’s best players and shuts them down. He’s a huge asset and we really missed him.”

▪ Roberto Luongo will indeed get the start Thursday against the Senators (7 p.m., FSFL) after Rowe said James Reimer would go.

According to Rowe, Reimer called him at 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning to inform him that wasn’t going to make it because his wife April was going into labor with the couple’s first child.

“The baby is on the way I guess and he’s home,” Rowe said.

Ticket sales manager Bobby Seguin filled in for Reimer at practice Tuesday morning with Sam Brittian recalled from the minors to serve as Luongo’s backup against the Sens.

▪ The Panthers placed defenseman Dylan McIlrath and forward Paul Thompson on waivers Tuesday afternoon.

▪ Nick Bjugstad, who made his return off the injured list with Petrovic on Thursday, moved up to play alongside Jared McCann and Jaromir Jagr on Tuesday.

Bjugstad started on Florida’s fourth line against the Lightning.

▪ Former Florida goalie Craig Anderson is back with the Senators after missing the past month to be with wife Nicholle as she went through radiation and chemotherapy treatments for a rare form of throat cancer.

Anderson, who met Nicholle in Davie while playing for the Panthers, still makes his home in Broward County and had his red Ferrari parked in the media lot behind BB&T Center for Tuesday’s morning skate.

FACEBOOK VIDEO: Tom Rowe speaks before Tuesday’s game via One Panther Parkway

“Win or lose, it’s a hockey game,” Anderson, who hasn’t played since Dec. 5, told reporters following Monday’s evening practice in Sunrise.

“There’s more to life. When you go through something this traumatic and difficult, hockey is a job. I’m passionate about it, but at the end of the day, hockey will go on, whether I’m in it or not.

“You don’t know how much time you have with someone. Life is precious.”

▪ Shawn Thornton, who was a healthy scratch for much of the start of the season, is back in the lineup Tuesday for the 10th consecutive game.

“The more you play, the better you feel,” the 39-year-old said. “Conditioning isn’t ever a problem but your timing gets better the more you play.”

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