NEWARK, N.J. - Eight months is a long time between games.

But it's been just about that for Randy Jones, who played for the Flyers yesterday for the first time since having extensive surgery on his right hip in October.

"It's about time, I'd say," the defenseman said yesterday morning as he prepared a stick for the game against the New Jersey Devils. "I'm glad to have this over."

Before rejoining the Flyers, Jones played two games with the Phantoms on a conditioning assignment.

"It was good," he said. "I thought it was something that was really important and should have been done.

"Things went well. I felt good and had no issues either game, so the next step is see how this goes. It's way different [in the AHL], but when you haven't played in 8 months I thought it was a good opportunity to play at a level just below this to kind of get used to the pace again and the timing and it was good to take advantage of that."

Jones played 20 minutes, 12 seconds, and was credited with two blocked shots, playing in place of Luca Sbisa, who was a healthy scratch. This is where it will get interesting for the Flyers, with eight healthy defensemen and a tight salary cap. The Flyers have been winning and someone will have to sit. Lasse Kukkonen was also a healthy scratch, but he has been in and out of the lineup all season.

The Flyers have said all along that giving Sbisa games off now and then would be how they avoid overloading the 18-year-old, instead of sending him back to junior hockey.

Jones understands that his job is not going to be handed to him even in light of the way he played last year and in the playoffs, which was enough to earn him a 2-year contract extension in the offseason.

"Just because I'm back doesn't mean that they will throw me back in the lineup. It doesn't matter how I play, I have to go out and compete," he said. "This is a team game and it's up to the coaches to play the best players, the ones that look the best to win the game. I have to earn a spot and that starts now."

Jones should be getting a solid look since he was factored into the Flyers' preseason plans to change their defense into a more mobile, puck-moving group.

"Not to take anything away from the guys that are playing, I think our guys have done a great job," coach John Stevens said. "This is the first time that we have four guys that can all play the power play and Jones gives you another weapon.

"He did a great job last year on the second unit, but he's a really good puck-mover where he can make a lot of possession plays like a Matt Carle or like a Kimmo Timonen. He's another guy who has composure with the puck."

Shorthanded surge

The Flyers scored their 13th shorthanded goal of the season Saturday in a 7-1 win over Washington. That's a huge accomplishment, but John Stevens would like to cut back on some of those shorthanded opportunities.

The Flyers have been taking first-period penalties and falling behind or having to battle through a ton of shots.

They gave up two power-play goals in Montreal on Thursday, and then gave up five power-play chances to Alex Ovechkin on Saturday. Washington had 25 shots in the first period and 48 in the game. Antero Niittymaki had 47 saves.

"It seems like we come out sometimes and try to play an aggressive style and sometimes the referees are trying to set the standard for the hockey game and a lot of times it's set on our behalf and it's something we have to adjust to," Stevens said.

"[Shorthanded goals] are a nice weapon to have but it's not a weapon you want to wear out, either. I think the more we stay off the penalty kill, the more people will get involved in the game and the less chances for the other team to gain momentum on the power play." *