PHILADELPHIA -- Shortly after finding out defense partner Chris Pronger underwent knee surgery this summer, Matt Carle -- who spends his summers in Minnesota -- called his elder teammate to ask if it was just a ploy to skip training camp.
He knew Pronger, the wily veteran, has a few tricks up his sleeve after 16 NHL seasons.
"I was joking with him that he was pulling a Brett Favre and skipping training camp," Carle said. "He said that they both turned pro at the same time, so he might as well start doing it, too."
Tuesday, for the first time since training camp began on Sept. 17, the Flyers had a full defensive unit with Pronger on the ice. It was also the first time Pronger did not wear a yellow non-contact jersey.
Coincidentally, or not, the marathon eight-game preseason schedule is over. The Flyers begin defending their Eastern Conference title Thursday night when they open the new Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh in front of a national television audience.
Pronger, who turns 36 on Sunday, would not say Tuesday whether he will be on the ice Thursday. He has not missed an opener since 2002, while still with St. Louis, after sustaining a serious knee injury.
"I feel like I'm progressing and we'll see," Pronger said. "I think we all want to play in every game we possibly can."
Pronger did not skate in any of the preseason games. That might not be such a bad thing, considering he averaged more than 28 minutes per game last preseason before logging the second-most amount of minutes in the league in the regular season and the most in the playoffs.
"I wasn't going to play in that many preseason games anyway," Pronger said. "I think I've played in enough games over the course of my career. Really, it's about how you practice and kind of getting that chemistry and cohesiveness back."
For Pronger, it won't be hard to find that cohesiveness again. He was paired with Carle on Tuesday. He was a driving force to bring former partner Sean O'Donnell -- a player with whom he won a Stanley Cup in Anaheim in 2007 -- to Philadelphia via free agency this summer. He played with Matt Walker in St. Louis. And he has played against Andrej Meszaros -- both in the NHL and the Olympics -- for five years now.
"We picked up right where we left off," Carle said. "There wasn't much said between us. (But) I think it will be a little bit of an adjustment not playing in any games yet."
Those three newcomers were brought in to beef up the Flyers' blue line, which was top-heavy last year and lacked the depth to roll three pairs in big situations. Meszaros, who could play on the third pairing with O'Donnell, was Tampa Bay's No. 1 defenseman last season.
All eight defensemen -- including Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Oskars Bartulis -- make up what many call, top to bottom, the best defensive corps in the league. That's not hard to argue.
Pronger said that is what has made life easier for whomever is tending the Flyers' net, with Michael Leighton on the shelf for at least the first month of the season with a bulging disk in his lower back.
"It's more about how we play defensively (than who is in net)," Pronger said. "You obviously count on your goaltender to make a few big stops a game, and you try to not let him get shelled every night. It's about how we play in front of him and where he's receiving the shots from.
"If we take care of the slot area, most goaltenders at this level are going to stop the shots from the outsides."
As an added bonus, the Flyers' defensive newcomers will also help cut down on Pronger and Timonen's heavy workload and help ease Pronger into the season.
That might or might not be Thursday, even though it appears Pronger could play. The question is whether he should.
General manager Paul Holmgren -- echoed by coach Peter Laviolette Tuesday -- said the team will do what is in Pronger's best interest for the long term. Holmgren said last week he wanted to make sure Pronger is mentally ready and "knows in his own mind that he can play," before sending him out there.
"It's his body and he's the one feeling what he's feeling," Laviolette said. "Through conversations, you take in a lot of information and do what is best for Prongs long term."
Pronger will have the final say. And he, better than anyone on the Flyers, knows the games are a lot easier to win in October and November than March and April.
With Pronger, and the staff around him, the Flyers aren't just playing for March and April. They want June. Again.