TORONTO - With less than a minute remaining in a tied, meaningless exhibition game, one Flyer flew into the offensive zone and laid a hit on an unsuspecting Toronto defenseman.

He stole the puck and tried to create a scoring chance as if it were Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. Rudy Ruettiger would have been proud.

Except, unlike Rudy, this player was not a longshot doing everything he could to catch the coach's eye.

It was Max Talbot.

"I was excited tonight like it was a regular-season game," said Talbot, who played in his first NHL game since March 31. "I think I was a little rusty in the first period, but after that, I thought I was a little better."

It is for plays like that, in the final minute of a preseason contest that ended in a 3-2 win for the Flyers after a seven-round shootout, that Talbot has won over coach Peter Laviolette. It is the reason Talbot was one of the Flyers, along with Nick Grossmann, to be designated as an alternate captain during the preseason.

"There is something visible about a guy like Max when he is on his game," Laviolette said. "You take a guy like that out of the locker room and you miss it. To get him back and healthy, even playing in exhibition games, and I think it will be a big positive for our team."

Talbot, 29, missed the final 13 games of last season after fracturing a leg when he awkwardly crashed into the boards.

It wasn't just any break, either. Talbot was on crutches until July 1, cutting off nearly half of his rehab time in an excruciatingly long summer. He'd never been on crutches in his life.

"Guys break their leg sometimes and they're back on the ice in 5 weeks," Laviolette said. "His really seemed to linger."

To make up for his time lost in the weight room, Talbot doubled his workouts in July and August, training twice a day on the south shore of Montreal in one-on-one sessions with Mark Lambert, the strength coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. They've been working together for more than a decade.

"After the crutches, it was about strengthening the leg and slowly rebuilding the muscles," Talbot said. "I definitely put in the extra work, going twice a day to make sure that I am healthy."

The end result is Talbot looking leaner and faster on the ice than he did at the tail end of last season. Talbot didn't seem to believe that he is faster than before, but he is noticeable on the ice, as Laviolette said.

"He brings an enthusiasm and energy to the locker room and to the team and to the ice," Laviolette said. "I think his game, if he can get back to where he was before the injury, he can be a huge help for our team."

Laviolette and the Flyers are hoping Talbot can get back to the player he was two seasons ago, when he posted a career highs in goals (19), assists (15) and points (34). Last year, he was on pace for about 20 points, when you prorate his lockout-shortened season and account for the 13 games he missed.

For Talbot, the taste of failing to make the playoffs for the first time in his NHL career is providing the fuel for his upcoming season.

"It's still there lingering," Talbot said. "It's something that's in the back of my mind. It's about coming back, using it as motivation and slowly forgetting about it by playing good hockey."

Splitsville

Nearly simultaneously at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers lost another preseason contest in the shootout, 4-3, in a split-squad matchup with the Capitals. They were believed to be the Flyers' first split-squad games in team history.

Vinny Lecavalier netted his first goal as a Flyer, though Washington spoiled his exhibition debut by scoring with 22 seconds left in regulation. Fellow newcomer Ray Emery turned aside 29 of 32 shots, playing the entire game. Jake Voracek and Jason Akeson also scored for the Flyers.

First-round pick Samuel Morin logged a load of minutes against Washington and fed Lecavalier with a tricky outlet pass in his impressive debut.

Slap shots

Defenseman Andrej Meszaros led all Flyers in minutes (24:31), playing for the second night in a row. Laviolette said he initially planned to rest Meszaros, coming off multiple serious injuries, but he was feeling good enough to play back-to-back . . . The Flyers got goals from two defensemen: Bruno Gervais and Nick Grossmann. Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton both scored in the shootout . . . Veteran defenseman Hal Gill was scratched. Scott Hartnell was also scratched, with Zac Rinaldo (upper-body) sitting out due to injury . . . Likely Phantoms starter Cal Heeter (19 saves on 21 shots) played the whole game, giving Steve Mason the night off . . . Goalie prospect Anthony Stolarz, who stopped 14 of 15 shots on Sunday, remained in London, Ontario and was loaned back to the OHL's Knights.

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