LOS ANGELES - Watching his team play the first 36 games of the season without him, Michael Leighton has been itching to get back in the Flyers' lineup for a few weeks now.

It looks like the goalie will finally get that chance tonight.

A team source told the Daily News yesterday that Leighton, who has yet to appear in a Flyers uniform since Patrick Kane clinched the Stanley Cup for Chicago in overtime of Game 6 on June 9, will start in net tonight against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center as the Flyers look to avoid a three-game losing streak.

Coach Peter Laviolette would not confirm or deny the move yesterday - though he has never been one to announce his lineup ahead of time.

"I have faith and trust in all players in the lineup to do a job," Laviolette said. "We have three goaltenders right now and I'm pretty confident in all of them, just based on what I've seen since I've been here. All three goaltenders are healthy. All three goaltenders are available to us."

Leighton received the bulk of the work in practice yesterday afternoon in El Segundo, Calif. He had a herniated disk in his back surgically repaired on Oct. 11 and first returned to practice on Nov. 20 before completing two rehab stints with the Phantoms in early December. He has been patiently waiting since then as the Flyers sought the right time to get him back in the lineup.

Since neither Brian Boucher, who was pulled after allowing four goals on 28 shots, nor Sergei Bobrovsky, who let in two goals on 21 shots, was spectacular in the Flyers' 6-2 spanking from the Canucks on Tuesday, Leighton will try to seize the opportunity.

He was 17-9-2 in the regular season last year and 8-3 in the playoffs with a .916 save percentage and 2.46 goals-against average before signing a 2-year, $3.1 million contract extension on the eve of free agency.

"I'm getting a little bit of confidence; I definitely feel better," Leighton said yesterday. "They just told me to work hard in practice and be ready. You never know when it can happen."

Update (2:14 p.m.): The Flyers confirmed this report Thursday afternoon.

Shelley suspended again

Forward Jody Shelley was handed his second two-game suspension of the month yesterday after catching an unsuspecting Andrew Alberts with a right hand during a scrum in Vancouver on Tuesday night.

"I thought I was getting in a fight, and you either eat one or you throw one," Shelley said. "I thought I was in a fight, so I threw one. A lot of things go through your head, you're thinking, 'Don't do anything stupid,' then you're trying to protect yourself and protect your teammates. I'm just disappointed."

Since he was a repeat offender in the last 18 months, Shelley will forfeit $26,829 in salary for his two games missed, compared to the $11,826 he lost for the same amount of games earlier in the month. This is Shelley's fifth career suspension.

Dan Carcillo will return to the lineup in Shelley's place after missing Monday's game as a healthy scratch.

"I don't try to play like an idiot and I don't try to put my team in a bad situation," Shelley said. "It's just one of those things. The [league] makes you want to feel sick. And I feel sick. I guess it's a bad December."

It's all about Lappy

Even though injured Flyers forward Ian Laperriere has missed the entire season with postconcussion symptoms, his fan club in Los Angeles remained in full force yesterday at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif.

Karen Ellis and her husband Tim Wilkinson, who have followed Laperriere religiously from LA to Colorado to Philadelphia and are the brains behind the popular "It's All About Lappy" T-shirts, were on hand at the Flyers' practice.

Through the T-shirts, which the Flyers now sell at the Wells Fargo Center to benefit the Ronald McDonald Houses in Philadelphia and South Philadelphia, Ellis and Wilkinson have raised more than $16,500 in Laperriere's name, and they are still filling orders on their website. For more info, visit www.itsallaboutlappy.com.

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