In a sign that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is close to returning to the Penguins' lineup after missing 28 games with of a high ankle sprain, the team yesterday sent him to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on a conditioning assignment.
He is expected to be there a minimum of three games, which means it should be at least a week before he is recalled. Wilkes-Barre's next game is Wednesday at Norfolk, and it has games Friday, Saturday and Feb. 18.
"I'm pretty excited to get back in the net, just play some games," said Fleury, who was at Mellon Arena to watch the Penguins' 4-3 win against Philadelphia and reported the ankle is sound, if not 100 percent.
"It's getting better. It's improving," he said. "It won't be perfect until [after] the year, so I might as well start to play now."
Fleury, the first overall draft pick in 2003, was injured early in a game at Calgary Dec. 6. He was 9-8-1 and had won four consecutive starts with a shutout when injured.
"He needs to get back in game shape with his timing," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "Practices are nice -- he's working really hard at it -- [but] he needs to play some games."
Fleury is so happy to be back that the idea of the long bus rides in the minor leagues -- rather than the Penguins' charter flights -- don't bother him.
"It's not bad," he said. "I never minded them."
Fleury has not decided whether to stick with his trademark yellow pads during his stint in the minors or switch to his new bright white gear, which is not completely broken in yet.
The Penguins also returned forward Ryan Stone to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He had no points in five games since being recalled a month ago.
The Flyers got a bit of an assist from aging Mellon Arena on their third goal yesterday when Penguins goaltender Ty Conklin went to play the puck behind his net and got his stick blade stuck in a seam in the boards.
"It gets stuck in that thing every game," Conklin said. "We've either got to fix the boards or I've got to get back there a little quicker and get [the puck] before [it reaches] the crack.
"It was a point in the game where we didn't need any more suspense We'd had enough."
Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu had a long fight in the first period that ended when his opponent, Philadelphia's Steve Downie, skated away.
"That was pretty funny," said Ruutu, who acknowledged he had never had someone ditch from a fight like that. "I don't know what I was supposed to do. Was I supposed to go after him?"
Bad blood helped lead to the Flyers getting the first goal of the game.
Penguins winger Maxime Talbot slashed Philadelphia's Joffrey Lupul, then picked up a second penalty for roughing. During the first two-minute penalty, the Flyers' R.J. Umberger scored.
"It kind of goes back [to previous games]," Talbot said of sore feelings toward Lupul. "He was yapping. These are intense games. It was not the smartest penalty, but my teammates got the goal [back]."
The Penguins tied it later in the period.
Talbot nearly redeemed himself when, just out of the penalty box, he got the puck for a good scoring chance that was stopped by Philadelphia goaltender Martin Biron.
"I had a good bounce that put me out front," Talbot said. "It would have been nice."
The Penguins improved to 8-11-2 in Atlantic Division games. They don't play another division game for more than two weeks and play outside the division in 14 of their next 15 games. ... Flyers winger Simon Gagne got knocked down in the neutral zone in the first period. He did not return after the first intermission and apparently has a shoulder injury. ... A sign in Russian on an upper facade welcomed the family of Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, according to team employee and Russian translator George Birman. Malkin's parents are visiting. ... The Penguins scratched Stone and defenseman Alex Goligoski. Philadelphia scratched forwards Scottie Upshall and Jesse Boulerice and defenseman Braydon Coburn.