DETROIT -- If it's truly winning that sells, the Senators are making their first-ever foray into the pay-per-view world at a lousy time.
When they step on the Joe Louis Arena white sheet tonight, they will again be minus their best forward and defenceman, and lugging with them another three-game losing streak which has seen them outscored by an embarrassing 15-5 margin.
Not a good game to enter struggling offensively, this.
Not with the Dominator standing between them and getting back on track.
While Martin Gerber slowly crumbles before your very eyes (5-9-1-0, 3.35 goals- against average and an .891 save percentage), the eccentric legend he replaced as Ray Emery's goaltending partner is playing as well or better than he ever has.
Dominik Hasek, at 41, is again with Detroit and again one of the top goalies in the NHL.
With a base salary almost $3 million less than what Ottawa is paying Gerber, Hasek has a 14-4-3-4 record, a league-leading 1.84 G.A.A., and a .911 save percentage.
During one stretch this season, he posted the longest shutout streak of his 16-season career: 181 minutes, 17 seconds.
"He has aged," Mike Fisher said yesterday. "But he's still very good."
Hasek says he understands the Senators' decision to "move on" after his mysterious adductor injury and reluctance to play through it left them high and dry last season. But with Bryan Murray, John Muckler and some suspicious players in the house, you have to know he's going to want to prove something to them, too.
Does Murray regret telling a post-playoff press conference last April that it was time for the Senators and Hasek to part company?
"I have no regrets at all," Murray said yesterday, adding he's not a bit surprised by Hasek's start. "We knew if he is healthy, he is a quality goaltender. We were in a place where we needed to be healthy and to go all the way through (the season) with an elite guy."
NO GROIN PROBLEMS
Hasek has been free of groin problems this season. Butthen, the season is still young.
Meanwhile, it is a slimmed- down Hasek that is with the Red Wings for a second go-around.
In yesterday's Detroit News, he revealed he has lost 12-14 lbs. since he wore a Senators jersey.
"If it's 10 o'clock at night, I'll have a bite of apple maybe, or something like that -- not a big piece of bread with salami and cheese," said Hasek, who arrived at the Wings camp tipping the scales at 166 lbs. "The way I am right now is exactly the way I was back in 1998 and my best years in Buffalo.
"Right now, I'm 168 and I want to stay under 170 through the season. That's my goal."
There's no way the Senators could have brought Hasek back this season, even at the $750,000 base salary he's getting from the Red Wings, even if he stood on top of Scotiabank Place and guaranteed to a team and town his return to perfect health.
TOSKALA THE ANSWER
They could have and should have accepted a trade offer from San Jose that would have seen them with Vesa Toskala rather than Gerber, for sure, but they simply could not have gone into this campaign with Hasek as their goalie.
The players couldn't have faith in him finishing the job this time, nor could the fans.
But on a mid-December evening, when they are struggling and he is soaring, it is easy to fall into the trap of imagining 'what if' the Dominator was still in Ottawa colours.
Never mind that he has always played well against the Senators. Forget that he has a 24-7-5 record, a 1.41 G.A.A. and an incredible .953 save percentage in 37 career games vs. Ottawa.
This one will have extra meaning to Hasek, and it's extremely difficult to believe he's going to let the team that shunned him eight months ago beat him tonight.