Dany Heatley was, arguably, as close to being a normal hockey player again Saturday morning as any time since the car accident that killed teammate Dan Snyder and severely injured him Sept. 29.
Preparing for his third game of the season after missing the first 51 because of knee surgery and a broken jaw, the MVP of last season's All-Star Game did not face the media crush of his first game Wednesday in Atlanta or the sizable Toronto media corps that accompanied the Maple Leafs to Atlanta for a game Friday.
As the Thrashers wrapped up an optional morning skate, Heatley was just another player with a missing tooth in a baseball cap and ratty T-shirt, trying to find his game amid the routine.
He was actually talking about hockey.
"Everything is starting to come back a day at a time," said Heatley, who has nine shots and is minus-4 in three games. "It's going to take a little time. I'm a little bit rusty with the hands, but I am trying to come back slow and get in the right direction.
"It is frustrating at times, but you have to remind yourself you've been out for a little bit of time."
Heatley, who had 41 goals and 89 points last season, said the Thrashers should not expect him to single-handedly reverse a slide in which they went from eight points ahead to 11 points down to the Lightning in the Southeast Division and out of a playoff spot.
"I think it's going to take everybody in the room to get us going again," he said.
"Hopefully, I can contribute and help out, but we'll need everybody."
NEW GOALS: Atlanta coach Bob Hartley appears ready to shift his target during the final 28 games. Making the playoffs as the eighth seed is becoming more realistic than winning the Southeast and earning what likely would be the third seed.
"I think where we're at right now, we have to look more now about getting a place in the playoffs," he said before Saturday's game. "Before targeting for No. 3, we should target for No. 8. Once we get to No. 8, we'll see where we are against Tampa and those guys.
"Right now, we have to look at a bigger target. And once we reach that target, we can look at the bull's-eye."
Atlanta is 10th in the East, seven points behind the eight-place Islanders.
LANDMARK: John Tortorella's 100th win _ all with the Lightning _ came and went with the lack of fanfare expected from the no-nonsense coach even though most were difficult as the team grew from perennial also-ran to division winner.
"It's a nice recognition, but I don't think he pays too much attention to it," said Fredrik Modin, one of eight players to have played in every win since Tortorella replaced Steve Ludzik in January 2001.
"His head is too much into practice and what is going on the next day. I don't think you're going to see him writing stuff like that up on the board."
ODDS AND ENDS: Darren Rumble and Nolan Pratt were healthy scratches. Martin St. Louis extended his points streak to nine with an assist on the empty-net goal.
_ BRANT JAMES