Looking out for No. 1

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

The door might be open for Martin Gerber, but a goaltending controversy isn't going to shoulder its way through on his heels ... no matter how well he plays in the next three games.

With Ray Emery starting a three-game suspension tonight when the Senators host the Florida Panthers, Senators coach Bryan Murray made it clear the top job is still Emery's to lose, not Gerber's to win.

Emery will be back at his post when his suspension ends and the Senators travel to Buffalo to play the Sabres a week from tomorrow.

Murray cut off any talk of a goaltending controversy quickly yesterday.

"(Gerber) hasn't played one game yet," said Murray. "We're just going to let him play. That's the key. We're going to try and win (tonight), but I'm not going to get into any discussion about who is going to be No. 1 at the end of that time.

"If Ray Emery keeps playing the way he's played, I'd be kind of silly not to give him a chance to play against Buffalo. We'll see how it works out. Going game to game is the best way. Ray kept playing because he was playing great. There's no question that he gave us a chance every night that he played to win the hockey game. Let's see if Martin can do that now."

This was inevitable, of course.

Maybe the circumstances are unexpected, but the fact the Senators are now in a position of needing Gerber should not be a surprise.

Over the course of the season, something was going to happen to open the door for Gerber.

It is wide open, starting tonight against the Panthers, after Emery was suspended for three games for whacking Montreal Canadiens forward Maxim Lapierre across the face with his stick Saturday night.

This is a chance for the 32-year-old Gerber to shrug off the hard season he has had here so far and to show his game has truly made some honest gains lately.

"It's always great to get back in net. I'm looking forward to it," said Gerber, who has started just one of the Senators' last 13 games and two of the last 22.

"It's the kind of a season I don't want to analyze too much."

You can't blame him.

Gerber won just three of his first 12 starts and struggled while Emery was out with a wrist injury.

With the Senators reeling and rumours of jobs being on the line back in mid-November, Emery came back from his injury and won five of six games. The starting job has been his since.

No controversy.

No questions.

Emery has been the better goaltender.

Murray isn't looking at this three-game absence as anything more than a forced rest for Emery and a chance for Gerber to build on his personal three-game winning streak.

"The team didn't play very well early in the year and he didn't play the way he can play," said Murray. "I think there have been some real struggles there. In this market, like a lot of Canadian markets in particular, there's much more focus on every area and certainly goaltending. His contract and all that was mentioned almost every day.

"I think sitting out has been tough on him. I don't doubt that. As a coach, it's easy for me to go and point the finger and say, 'Ray, you're starting tonight.' It's very difficult on the other guy when his whole agenda was to try and be the No. 1 guy here. But the good thing about Martin is he's a pretty stable person, he's a good person and given the opportunity here, he'll run with the ball."

The Senators called up Kelly Guard from Binghamton of the American Hockey League to back up Gerber on a game-to-game basis.

Emery is still allowed to practise with the team.


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