Penguins center Maxime Talbot skated alone before his teammates as usual yesterday, then stayed out and participated in the morning skate at Mellon Arena.
He'll skate early again today, and if he feels good enough to make it through a full non-game day practice with the team, it could mean he's getting close to returning to the lineup.
He hasn't played since Dec. 8 because of a high ankle sprain.
"It was a really good skate for me," Talbot said. "We'll see [today] if I can stay with the team for a real practice."
Talbot was not close to being ready to play against Toronto last night and is a long shot for tomorrow afternoon's game against Florida, but it's not out of the question that he could return during the Penguins' road trip next week to Florida, Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
"It's weak," he said. "I feel it when I skate. [Wednesday] it was sore. [Yesterday], it's weak but not so sore, so that's better. I don't want to say I'll be back in a week or a certain number of days."
Talbot missed five games with the injury, then came back for four before realizing it was worse than originally thought, so he wants to be cautious about making sure the ankle is sound.
Besides, he said, it's not as if the Penguins have fallen apart without him.
They had won five of six going into last night.
"I'm anxious to play, but I'd be even more anxious to play if they were struggling," said Talbot, who has seven goals, 11 points in 24 games.
No decision on surgery or other course of treatment has been made on defenseman Mark Eaton, who has a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament, or winger Gary Roberts, who has a broken fibula.
Toronto center Chad Kilger, who played for Penguins coach Michel Therrien in Montreal, has a history of performing well against the Penguins.
His statistics aren't particularly gaudy -- he entered last night's game with eight goals and six assists in 30 games against them -- but he routinely produces a strong two-way game.
Kilger acknowledged that he does well against the Penguins, but explaining why he consistently has success against them turns out to be tougher than actually doing it.
"I don't know why," he said. "They're just one of those teams that I always have some good games against. Having an ex-coach over there is probably a little bit of motivation, but it's been awhile since he coached me."
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins' top minor-league affiliate, will be going for a team-record 10th consecutive victory tonight when it plays on the road against the Toronto Marlies. ... Penguins general manager Ray Shero and assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher are in the Czech Republic for the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships. The United States plays Canada today in a semifinal. Penguins prospect Brian Strait is a defenseman for the United States. ... The NHL Network will rebroadcast the Winter Classic at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. ... The Penguins wore their white uniforms after donning their black sweaters in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs like to wear their whites at home. ... The Penguins had no healthy scratches. ... The Maple Leafs scratched goaltender Vesa Toskala (groin), defenseman Anton Straiman and forwards Kyle Wellwood and John Pohl.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.