What a way to start

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

So, here we are a year later and Martin Gerber is again starting in goal for the Senators in a season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sounds the same.

Looks a lot different.

At this time last year, Gerber was the Senators starter even though Ray Emery had outplayed him in training camp.

A new, three-year, $11.1-million contract guaranteed Gerber's starting status a year ago.

Now he is the starter again, this time by default, the fault being Emery's surgically repaired left wrist isn't ready for action.

It didn't sound yesterday like it will be ready for at least the next week or so.

Maybe longer.

Emery is working on his own under the direction of goaltending coach Eli Wilson.

Senators coach John Paddock said Emery would need "four or five" days of practice with his teammates before he could play in a game.

When is that going to be?

That's anybody's guess.

The Senators have a seriously front-loaded schedule with six games in the first nine days of the season (and seven in 11) and it doesn't sound like Emery is going to be ready to play before that stretch ends.

So, it looks like it's going to be Gerber or bust, bust in this case being Brian Elliott (pro experience: Eight games in the American Hockey League).

Gerber has had a star-crossed career in the NHL.

He was the starter with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06, but got sick at the beginning of the playoffs, got bombed by the Montreal Canadiens and lost his job to Cam Ward.

That would be Cam Ward, Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

After signing with the Senators, Gerber got off to a terrible start behind a team that was just as bad. After leading the Senators to a win in the opener last year, making 33 saves against the Leafs (he was beaten only by captain Mats Sundin on a penalty shot), Gerber won just one of his next eight starts and two of 12.

You can pinpoint the night he lost his job.

The Senators went into Buffalo to face the first-place Sabres on Nov. 15. All hell was breaking loose. That was the trip when owner Eugene Melnyk's right-hand man, Sheldon Plener, had joined the team.

RUMOUR FODDER

The rumours on TSN were wholesale changes were imminent with both GM John Muckler and coach Bryan Murray to be fired, replaced, perhaps, by Pat Quinn and Ken Hitchcock.

Turns out Plener was just catching a ride to New York (the next stop) for a hearing about a dispute with former GM Marshall Johnston, but it made for a good couple of days of speculation.

Emery won the game 3-2 that night and started the next six after that, winning five of those seven starts, including four in a row.

Gerber started only 15 games the rest of the season, but went 12-1-2 in those games, mostly against weaker, hand-picked opponents, though he did win the three games Emery was out while serving a suspension for slapping Montreal's Maxim Lapierre in the face with his stick.

A lot of fans would have liked to have seen Gerber and his $3.7-million salary traded out of town during the summer. Murray, now the GM, probably would have done it if he had found a dance partner.

Gerber's still here.

"I think he's been outstanding in training camp," said Paddock.

Much is made about what the Senators are paying for their goaltending. Their cap hit this year is $6.8 million, pretty close to what most elite teams are paying.

Depending on how Gerber plays, the advantage for the Senators is they could have two competent goaltenders, rather than one good one and a backup who's either a mediocre journeyman or untried youngster, though some Senators fans are ready to consider Gerber the former.

"That should be the last position we have to worry about. Maybe some nights your forwards aren't scoring or the defence isn't moving the puck quick enough. Goaltending is the last position we expect to see a weak performance," said Paddock.

Gerber couldn't quite put his finger on what went wrong last year.

"You push as hard as you can, but it felt like there were certain restrictions and I couldn't go over it. This year I feel like I have much more in the tank," he said yesterday.

We'll see tonight.

You can pinpoint the night last year when Gerber lost his job as the starter here.

Won't it make things interesting around here to be able to point to a night when he won it back?


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