With Emery beginning a three-game suspension for a slash on Montreal’s Maxim Lapierre, Gerber – for the time being, at least – regains the starting goaltender job he lost following a dismal start to his Senators career in the fall. Beginning Wednesday against the Florida Panthers, the 32-year-old gets the opportunity for regular playing time that he’s relished after spending much of the season as a spectator.
“For sure, it’s always great to get back in net and I’m looking forward to it,” Gerber, who’s appeared in just 20 of Ottawa’s 57 games this season, said Tuesday. “That’s what everybody’s looking forward to – trying to get as much games as possible.”
Of course, it wasn’t supposed to be this way when he left the Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes to sign an US$11.1-million, three-year deal with Ottawa in the off-season.
Gerber was brought into be the top dog. Instead, he was just plain dogged by poor play early on. Only now is he getting a second chance to prove his worth.
“The team didn’t play very well early in the year and he didn’t play the way he could play, so I think there’s been some real struggles there,” Senators coach Bryan Murray said. “I think sitting out’s been tough on him. It’s very difficult on the other guy when his whole agenda was to try to be the No. 1 guy here.
“But what’s happened now is the team has played better, with more confidence and I think Martin, as we watch him, he’s more relaxed around the group and more into it. The good thing about Martin is he’s a pretty stable person, a good person, and given the opportunity here, I fully feel he’ll run with the ball.”
Gerber appeared in a career-high 60 games last year in his one and only season with the Hurricanes, going 38-14-6 with a 2.78 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.
However, his play suffered in the playoffs when he gave up 12 goals in the opening two games – both losses to Montreal – and lost his starting spot to eventual Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward.
Any doubts over whether he could handle the pressure of being a big-money goaltender that were cast then grew among the fans and media in Ottawa when he showed a penchant for letting in soft goals with regularity early on.
After winning his debut, he went on to lose nine of his next 11 starts and, as the losses mounted for Ottawa, he found himself sitting while Emery helped the Senators right the ship.
Although Gerber has won five of his last six starts to bring his numbers up to 8-9-1 on the season with a 3.08 GAA and .899 save percentage, he’s only made four appearances in the past two months and they’ve come against the league’s lesser-lights (he would likely have started Wednesday against the Panthers regardless of Emery’s status).
“It’s part of the season I don’t really want to analyze too much,” Gerber said. “I just want to go day by day and make the best out of it and just be patient and positive and moving forward.”
Gerber admitted it’s been tough to watch Emery get the call night after night. But he’s also has been a consummate professional, according to his teammates, so he’s got their vote of confidence.
“What he’s gone through this year, he’s kept a great attitude,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. “He’s been working very hard on the ice and in the weight room.”
With the Senators in the middle of a tight battle for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference, each of the next three games are important for the team, but also for Gerber, even though Murray said they won’t necessarily get him more playing time.
Emery is eligible to return Feb. 22 for a big home-and-home series against Buffalo.
“We’re just going to let (Gerber) play, I think that’s the key,” Murray said. “We’re going to try to win (Wednesday), but I’m not getting into any discussion regarding who’s going to be No. 1 at the end time here.
“Ray kept playing because he was playing great. He gave us a chance every night that he played to win the hockey game, so let’s see if Martin can do that now.”