Penguins winger Gary Roberts figures he might need some time to feel something close to full strength after missing the past 43 games over more than three months.
He just hopes he has a chance to see if he's right.
- Matchup: Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers, 3:08 p.m., Wachovia Center, Philadelphia.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Martin Biron for Flyers.
- Penguins: Are 3-4 vs. Flyers but have won the past three games. ... D Sergei Gonchar has 14 goals, 44 points in 57 career games vs. Philadelphia. ... RW Marian Hossa needs one goal for 300 in his career.
- Flyers: Have earned at least a point in 17 of past 21 games. ... Are 28-7-7 when scoring first. ... Have not allowed a hat trick.
- Hidden stat: A win would give Flyers the same number of wins, 21, at home and on road.
"I'm going to be a lot better in three weeks," Roberts said yesterday after practice at Southpointe. "Hopefully, we have a nice long run in the playoffs and as we go along I get better."
Roberts is expected to return today for the Penguins' regular-season finale at Philadelphia. He has been out since Dec. 29, when he got a broken left leg and a high ankle sprain.
"I'm looking forward to it," Roberts said. "I'm excited to play, but I'm realistic at the same time. I haven't played in three months. I'm just going to try to keep it simple, get my legs under me and get back to being part of the team."
If the Penguins make a serious run at the Stanley Cup, Roberts could celebrate his 42nd birthday May 23 still playing and still chasing a second shot at the grand prize after winning it with Calgary in 1988-89.
The gritty veteran sees no reason the Atlantic Division champion Penguins can't contend.
"Our team has really battled through some adversity this season," he said. "It hasn't been a smooth ride by any stretch. We've lost a lot of key guys, and this team has found a way to win.
"That's a good sign heading into the playoffs. If we can battle together and get a healthy lineup out there, who knows how far we can go?"
As they jetted to Philadelphia after practice, the Penguins knew they would finish the season as the first or second seed in the Eastern Conference and would meet Boston, Ottawa or Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs.
Although some were tossing around seeding and matchup scenarios, mostly they were content to enjoy the impending 24 hours or so and see where things fall.
"It's a fun time of year," forward Max Talbot said. "The only thing we can do is try to win [today]."
That doesn't mean they weren't curious about who they will face starting Wednesday or Thursday.
"The guys are really excited to find out what team we're going to play," Talbot said.
It has been a season of several extended injuries for the Penguins, but also one in which most players had at least one small problem or another that knocked them out of the lineup for a game or more.
Only forwards Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin are expected to play in their 82nd game today.
Malkin is the team's ironman at this point. He missed the first four games of his rookie season in 2006-07 because of a shoulder injury and has played in 159 in a row since, plus five playoff games last spring.
"I'm tired," he admitted, but he expected to be fine with a break between the win Wednesday against the Flyers and the rematch today. "It's OK. Three days off."
Besides, Malkin rarely fails to get his adrenaline flowing for the Flyers. He has 10 goals, 24 points in 14 games against them.
Staal, also in his second season, is often one of the first Penguins on the ice and one of the last off.
"Maybe it's just youth," said Staal, 19. "I'm still young, still trying to work on my game and get better. I enjoy being out there and I enjoy having fun, being at practice and fooling around with the guys."
He missed one game last season, Dec. 5, because of lingering effects of a flu bug, so he has played in 162 games over the past two seasons, 137 in a row.
"I guess it's something pretty neat," Staal said. "I want to stay in the lineup as long as I can."
Coach Michel Therrien finished a distant fifth, at 7 percent, in the latest Sports Illustrated player poll, which asked NHL players which coach they would least like to play for. Calgary's Mike Keenan was the overwhelming "winner" at 36 percent. Players could not vote for their own coach.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721.