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Flyers' Randy Jones cleared to play

The Flyers' defense, which struggled early in the season before being solidified by two trades and the emergence of 18-year-old Luca Sbisa, is about to get even better.

The Flyers' defense, which struggled early in the season before being solidified by two trades and the emergence of 18-year-old Luca Sbisa, is about to get even better.

Randy Jones has received medical clearance to play and could be in the lineup when the streaking Flyers host Colorado tonight.

Jones has not played this season as he recovered from hip surgery. He has been going through practices and said he is 100 percent healthy.

"I feel more and more comfortable every day," he said after yesterday's practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees.

Jones said he was excited about the possibility of playing tonight.

"I've been anxious for two months now," he said. "It's killing me [to sit out], but I'm happy it's over with and glad to be back here. And I'll do the best I can to get back in the lineup and earn a spot again - and make sure I stay there."

Coach John Stevens said he would make a decision today about whether Jones returns tonight. If Jones does play, Andrew Alberts, acquired from Boston on Oct. 13, will likely be a healthy scratch.

The first two defensive pairings - Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle (acquired from Tampa Bay last month), and Kimmo Timonen and Ossi Vaananen - have been superb, so it would not be surprising if Jones were to be teamed with Sbisa, the club's impressive rookie.

It appears that Sbisa is not going to be sent to juniors - even with the addition of Jones and, in a few weeks, defenseman Ryan Parent.

The Flyers are 12-1-3 in their last 16 games, a stretch in which their defense has shown improvement.

"It's exciting, what this team has come through from the first two weeks of the season until now," said Jones, mindful of the 0-3-3 start.

Stevens said Jones would give the Flyers another puck-moving defenseman and assist the already-strong power play (26.4 percent success rate) and penalty kill (84.5 percent).

"He makes a lot of possession plays with the puck, breaking out in transition," Stevens said. "He has an ability to help us in all parts of his game. So if he's healthy and he gets back up to speed, there's no doubt in my mind he can help us."

The Flyers will have to put center Danny Briere (groin) on the long-term injury list to free enough salary-cap space to allow Jones to play. That would mean Briere would have to sit out at least 10 games and 24 days. The move would be retroactive, and Briere has already missed five games. He is not expected to return until early January.

Parent (shoulder) is expected to return Dec. 26. The Flyers then would have nine NHL-caliber defensemen and would likely have two of them sit out each game.

"There always seems to be some sort of injury. It's not very often you have the luxury of having nine defensemen that are healthy," general manager Paul Holmgren said.

When Parent returns, Lasse Kukkonen (who has already cleared waivers) probably will be sent to the AHL Phantoms. The Flyers would still have eight defensemen, increasing the likelihood of a trade, which figures to be necessary to fit the club under the cap when Briere returns.

Holmgren said there are no plans to send Sbisa back to juniors.

"We've talked about it, but it's not something we want to do," he said. "Would it be detrimental [to his progress]? I don't know. We think he's played well enough to stay in the lineup. For now, we'll just leave it at that."

When the defense is back at full strength, Sbisa could be rested occasionally.

"I don't know if it would hurt him if he happened to be a healthy scratch for one game," Holmgren said.

Early in the season, the Flyers did not have enough quality defensemen. Now they are on the verge of having too many.

It's a nice problem to have.