Watching the Penguins-Flyers tussle from the locker room Tuesday night was a lot to ask for a guy like Riley Cote.

Those games are where players like Cote make a living and get the most ice time.

"It was a good game," Cote said. "We needed a game like that at home. Those are the times of the season where I come into play. That's the whole point of having guys like me.

"I wish I could have been out there; it's too bad. But the boys handled themselves real well in areas where they don't normally go. [Jeff] Carter did a great job, [Jeff] Hartnell did a great job."

There was nothing Cote could do about it, because he was finishing his three-game suspension for taking a head shot at Dallas defenseman Matt Niskanen on Dec. 1. To get a taste of the Penguins, he'll just have to wait until Jan. 24, when they visit the Wachovia Center again.

Last night. Cote got his chance to get some licks in, playing 3 minutes, 59 seconds against the Canadiens. It was a welcome return for Cote, who said from now on he'll try to keep his elbows down.

"It was a learning experience," he said. "I've just got to keep playing the way I do, chip on my shoulder. I've just got to be a little more careful, I guess.

"I'm going to still play the way I do. Even before it happened, I was always thinking about what I do and not getting suspended. I'm going to keep finishing my checks. I'm just going to keep my elbows down.

"I think my hit wasn't good, but I think it was the elbow, the timing of the hit [late in the third period of a 4-1 loss] and the score of the game. If it was the second period, I don't think I would have gotten suspended, but I've got to be smarter."

When it comes to Cote and players like him, Flyers coach John Stevens has a soft spot.

Stevens values team commitment and hard play as much as he does talent in certain guys, and Cote is one of them. So Stevens was happy to have him back.

"He brings a lot to our team," Stevens said. "He's improved so much as a player. His energy and physical play, he's just a great teammate. It's great to have him back."

And about Pittsburgh?

"It doesn't matter who's in or who's out," Stevens said. "I think it's important your team plays hard and stands together, and I think we did that. But it's always nice to see [Cote] sitting on the bench, for sure." *