OTTAWA -- It was Dec. 3. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 17 shots as the Penguins beat Phoenix, 3-1, to even their record at 12-12-2.
That was the last time Fleury played at Mellon Arena, one day short of three months ago.
Today, he is expected to start the Penguins' afternoon home game against Atlanta after missing more than a third of the season with a right high ankle sprain.
"I'm pretty excited, a little nervous," Fleury said after serving as Ty Conklin's backup yesterday in the team's 5-4 loss to the Senators.
- Matchup: Penguins vs. Atlanta Thrashers, 3:08 p.m., Mellon Arena.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Kari Lehtonen for Thrashers.
- Penguins: Have not swept two games at home vs. Atlanta since 2001-02. ... Have not lost three in row since mid-November. ... Petr Sykora has 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in past eight games.
- Thrashers: Are 0-4-2 in past six games, 0-4-1 in past five road games. ... Are 7-8-3 vs. Atlantic Division. ... Road penalty-killing, 77.1 percent before yesterday, is among worst in NHL.
- Hidden stat: Thrashers have been awarded penalty shots in two consecutive games and have made both, by Eric Perrin and Ilya Kovalchuk.
"It's been a long time. It will be fun, though, to be back in Pittsburgh."
Fleury got hurt on an innocent-looking slip in the crease early in a Dec. 6 game at Calgary. He was recalled last Sunday from a minor-league conditioning assignment and relieved Conklin Thursday night in Boston. He played the final 38 minutes of a 5-1 loss, giving up two goals on 18 shots.
"You can't really evaluate him on that," said coach Michel Therrien, who will get a better chance today.
Fleury said his ankle isn't always pain-free.
"It's manageable," he said.
This set up as a make-or-break season for Penguins left winger Ryan Malone, who has all the makings of a power forward. So far, he's making the most of it.
Malone, who has thrived in recent weeks playing on the top line with center Evgeni Malkin and right winger Petr Sykora, had two goals yesterday, giving him 22 this season.
That matches his career bests from 2003-04 when he was a rookie and 2005-06. He tailed off to 16 goals last season.
"Playing with this guy over here," Malone said, pointing to Malkin sitting next to him, "I just go to the net, and he banks them off my stick."
It's not clear whether Marian Hossa believes center Sidney Crosby will be out more than another week with a right high ankle sprain, or if the Penguins' newcomer is optimistic he'll be back from a knee sprain before the projection of later this week, but he definitely is not sure the two can coordinate their comeback game.
"That could be a possibility, but, hopefully, I could be a little ahead of him," said Hossa, who was acquired Tuesday in a trade with Atlanta, largely to fill the role of right winger for Crosby.
Hossa got hurt Thursday in Boston during his first game with the Penguins. He will miss the game today against his former team.
The game today will give Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen a chance to play in Mellon Arena for the Thrashers five days after they were traded to Atlanta by the Penguins.
Armstrong and Christensen have played in two games with Atlanta. Armstrong has one assist and a plus-minus rating of minus-2. Christensen has no points, is minus-3 and was stopped as the Thrashers' second shooter yesterday when Atlanta fell, 3-2, to Boston in a shootout.
Most of the time, a certain 24-year-old French-Canadian Penguins forward is listed on rosters and lineup sheets and in print as Maxime Talbot.
He would be happy to shorten that to Max Talbot, a la Penguins defenseman Kris (instead of Kristopher) Letang.
Talbot, who loves the nickname Mad Max, gets a little irritated when his full first name gets misconstrued in translation.
"Sometimes I get phone calls from telemarketing," he said. "They ask for Mrs. Maxime Talbot."