Popovic returns after missing 27 games with foot injury

“He’s obviously in tip-top shape,” Anderson said of Popovic, who had been cleared to play five games ago. "If you’ve seen when he’s been out for a little bit of time, he always has a real good first game.”

He did. Popovic assisted on the Thrashers' lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay.

Forward Slava Kozlov was a healthy scratch for the fifth straight game. Anderson was asked if Kozlov, an unrestricted free agent following the season, should play to enhance his trade value before the March 3 deadline.

“Right now with the way our lineup is, we are a little younger and trying do some different things,” Anderson said. “It’s just the way it is right now for us. I don’t anticipate him being traded. I anticipate him playing for us.”

Defenseman Anssi Salmela was the team’s other healthy scratch.

  • Pavelec returns: Ondrej Pavelec got the start in goal Tuesday, after yielding to Johan Hedberg the past four games. Pavelec had the task of facing Tampa Bay goaltender Antero Niittymaki, who now has a career record of 16-0-0 against the Thrashers.

“We play against Tampa,” Pavelec said before the game. “We know if we are going to beat the team, we have to beat Niittymaki first. But we play against Tampa. In my head, it’s just Tampa.”

  • Throwing a shutout: The Thrashers entered the night having not allowed a power-play goal in four games, holding the opposition to 0-for-13 with a man-advantage.

“We lost our intensity and willingness to block shots,” Anderson said of a recent slump. “ ... Our team collectively is [now] willing to get into the shooting lanes.”

  • Close to returns: Goaltender Kari Lehtonen can remain at AHL Chicago through Saturday while on a two-week conditioning assignment. The Wolves' next games are Thursday and Friday. In three starts, Lehtonen is 1-1-1 with a 2.96 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.

“We want to give him every opportunity to [play] down there to get back into shape,” Anderson said.

Defenseman Christoph Schubert, on injured reserve with a knee injury, should be skating within the next week, according to Anderson. Schubert has missed the past eight games.

Chris Vivlamore

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