Will he play in Thursday's opener in Pittsburgh or won't he?

Only Chris Pronger knows for sure, and the Flyers' veteran defenseman played it coy Tuesday after he practiced at the Skate Zone in Voorhees and said his surgically repaired right knee was showing improvement.

Enough for him to play Thursday?

"It's progressing along and we'll see," he said, smiling and repeating the refrain to several questions about his availability against the archrival Penguins.

On Tuesday, Pronger practiced for the second time this preseason.

"As a goalie, we love having him out there," Brian Boucher said. ". . ..He's our leader back there and eats up a lot of minutes."

"He's like the big toe on your foot," defenseman Sean O'Donnell said. "Things seem to work a lot better when he's out there. I know he's not 100 percent . . . but I think there's 30 teams that would love to have him as their anchor guy."

Pronger will practice again Wednesday before a decision is made on whether he plays against the Penguins. During Tuesday's workout, "we didn't do a lot of speed stuff, so I don't think today was a really good day to test his mobility and speed," O'Donnell said. "But he looked good at everything he tried."

General manager Paul Holmgren said Pronger would travel with the team to Pittsburgh, even if he doesn't play. The team's medical and coaching staffs will evaluate the situation before the opener.

"I think you have to rely on Prongs, too. It's his body," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's the one who's feeling what he's feeling."

At Tuesday's practice, Pronger was paired with Matt Carle, his partner last season.

The other defensive pairings Tuesday: Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn; Andrej Meszaros and O'Donnell; and Matt Walker and Oskars Bartulis.

Leighton update. Goalie Michael Leighton, sidelined with a back injury, is progressing, and the Flyers decided not to put him on the long-term injured list, in which a player must miss 10 games or 24 days. Instead, he was placed on the injured-reserve list and can be activated at any time, since seven days have transpired since the injury occurred, Holmgren said.

Leighton is not expected to be available for a few weeks.

With Leighton on injured reserve, his $1.55 million salary counts against the Flyers' salary cap, but he does not count against the roster. Without Leighton, the Flyers have 24 players and can get down to the league maximum of 23 by placing Ian Laperriere on the long-term injury list on Wednesday.

Laperriere's $1.16 million salary then would not count against the cap, and would leave the Flyers room to include goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Andreas Nodl on the roster - just under the $59.4 million cap.

The Flyers have until 3 p.m. Wednesday to submit their roster to the league.

Lines set. The four lines Tuesday looked like this: Danny Briere centering Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino; Mike Richards centering Dan Carcillo and Jeff Carter; Claude Giroux centering James van Riemsdyk and Nikolay Zherdev; and Darroll Powe centering Jody Shelley and Nodl. Blair Betts missed practice because of a sore left knee, the one that was surgically repaired in the off-season. Betts said he would be ready to play Thursday.

Briere's line dominated in last season's playoffs.

"We were hoping they kept us together," Briere said. "It was instant with the chemistry, and when it's instant like that, you have a pretty good sense that it's going to keep going that way. You know each other and you think alike on the ice."

Breakaways. Goalie Johan Backlund and winger David Laliberte cleared waivers and will join AHL Adirondack. . . . Laviolette wouldn't name his starting goalie, but all indications are that Boucher will get the call Thursday. Laviolette said Bobrovsky "deserves consideration" to play early in the season.