GAME: Ottawa Senators (27-6-3) at Atlanta Thrashers (17-17-6).
TIME: Monday, 3 p.m. EST.
The memories of a teammate's death may ultimately have been too much for Dany Heatley to handle in Atlanta. All he wanted was a change of scenery when he asked the Thrashers to trade him after the NHL lockout ended.
Heatley - a key to the best start in Ottawa's franchise history - makes his return to Atlanta when the Senators meet the Thrashers at Philips Arena.
"There wasn't one particular reason," Heatley said of his decision for a new start. "I just felt that as a hockey player and as a person, what I wanted to accomplish, I felt I couldn't do it in Atlanta anymore."
While he has thrived in his first season with the Senators, Heatley will likely forever be haunted by a car crash before the 2003-04 season that resulted in the death of Thrashers teammate Dan Snyder.
After the Thrashers managed just 14 wins in its first season, they used the second overall pick in the 2000 draft on Heatley, and he quickly became the face of the franchise.
But on Sept. 29, 2003, Heatley lost control of the Ferrari he was driving, and crashed while speeding on a residential road in Georgia. Heatley suffered a broken jaw and two torn knee ligaments, but Snyder underwent brain surgery and remained in a coma until his death shortly afterward.
Heatley was later sentenced to three years probation after pleading guilty to second-degree vehicular homicide and three lesser charges.
Ironically, it was Snyder's family that urged the trial judge to keep Heatley out of prison.
"I've talked a lot about it for the last two years," Heatley said. "I've basically said everything there is to say. That's the reason I don't feel that I need to talk about it anymore."
Injuries from the accident forced Heatley to miss the first 51 games of the 2003-04 season. He came back to play the final 31 games, finishing with 13 goals and 12 assists.
Heatley remains second on Atlanta's all-time scoring list with 80 goals and 101 assists in just 190 games.
He was injured again last season playing in Switzerland during the lockout when he took a puck in the eye, breaking the orbital bone and requiring more surgery.
Senators general manager John Muckler said the Senators had concerns before the August trade in which Ottawa sent forward Marian Hossa and defenseman Greg de Vries to the Thrashers for Heatley.
"I still kept in mind what the upside was going to be if he got back on track," Muckler said. "Maybe a new environment, a Canadian boy coming to a Canadian city ... He wanted to play with what we have in Canada, more pressure because we talk about hockey all the time - it's a religion in Canada."
Heatley started off with his new team by recording 17 goals and 21 assists during a season-opening 22-game points streak. Overall, Heatley is tied with Daniel Alfredsson for the team lead with 25 goals. His 54 points are one shy of Alfredsson's team-leading total.
"I knew I wanted to come in and have a good start and get back to playing hockey the way I can," Heatley said. "And it's worked out that way so far."
Heatley will also likely get the chance to overtake Alfredsson for the team scoring lead. Alfredsson suffered a cracked rib in Ottawa's 4-3 win Thursday over the New York Islanders and will miss at least a week.
Alfredsson was injured when he took a shot in the ribs from teammate Zdeno Chara in the second period. He scored his team-high 25th goal earlier in the game, a figure later matched by Heatley.
Ottawa has won four in a row and leads the league with 57 points and 158 goals.
Heatley has not been the only one to thrive with his new team. Hossa rang in the new year with two goals Sunday in Atlanta's 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals.
Hossa, who ended 2005 on a three-game scoreless streak, scored the first two goals for his 12th multi-point game of the season.
Hossa, selected 12th overall by the Senators in the 1997 entry draft, scored 188 goals in six-plus seasons with Ottawa, good for third in club history behind Alfredsson (244) and Alexei Yashin (218).
"It's going to be an interesting game for me and for other players," said Hossa, who spent seven seasons with Ottawa. "But I just have to be myself and play the same game."
STANDINGS: Senators - 57 points, 1st place, Northeast Division. Thrashers - 40 points, 3rd place, 12 PB, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Senators - Alfredsson and Heatley, 25 goals; Jason Spezza, 34 assists; Alfredsson, 55 points; Chara, 92 PIM. Thrashers - Ilya Kovalchuk, 24 goals; Marc Savard, 35 assists, 53 points and 68 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senators - Power play: 23.5 percent (54 for 230), 2nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.4 percent (205 for 240), 4th. Thrashers - Power play: 20.7 percent (58 for 280), 5th. Penalty killing: 79.5 percent (206 for 259), 27th.
GOALTENDERS: Senators - Dominik Hasek (19-5-2, 3 SO, 2.10 GAA); Ray Emery (8-1-1, 1, 2.27). Thrashers - Kari Lehtonen (1-1-0, 0, 2.57); Michael Garnett (9-7-4, 2, 3.42).
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Senators, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 19, 2004; Thrashers, 3-2. At Ottawa, former Senator Shawn McEachern scored a power-play goal 72 seconds into overtime as Atlanta avoided a season-series sweep. Peter Bondra and Peter Schaefer scored second-period goals for Ottawa.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Senators - 11-3-3 on the road; Thrashers - 9-7-4 at home.