Let's look out for Sens' No. 1

ERIN NICKS

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

Is perception nine-tenths of the NHL's goaltending reality? These days, it's difficult to tell.

In the era of the snap judgment, it's become frightfully easy for a rookie like Canadiens blue-chip backstopper Carey Price to become the new-school version of Patrick Roy after one start. Then there was Sens prospect Brian Elliott pulling out a win against Atlanta in his regular-season debut, and the masses were ready to add him to Ottawa's growing pile of reliable goaltenders.

Easy to rise, and yet it will always be quicker to fall. But what if you're a young goalie with NHL experience, most recently in a Cup final? Can you avoid the snap judgment? How much leeway have you earned?

Pose these questions to Ray Emery, and he won't have an answer.

At the beginning of the 2006-07 season, the perception was that Martin Gerber would be the Senators' No. 1 -- assumptions largely created by his three-year, $11.1-million (all terms US) deal. But when the Sens struggled out of the gate, Gerber bore the brunt of the vitriol. He went 3-6 as a starter before Emery (who was 2-2) injured his wrist in early November. Emery missed four games, three of which the Sens lost.

But Emery came back, and with a post-injury record of 12-7 to Gerber's 3-1 -- it was obvious he was No. 1, even without the salary.

The questions eventually dissipated, but the injury quietly remained. And now, after off-season surgery, that same wrist is keeping Emery out of the regular-season lineup as he works to regain top form.

SILENCED CRITICS

Only this time when the 25-year-old returns, he'll be looked upon to act as the retainer and not the saviour, because Gerber is capable of holding his own. Gerber has silenced critics this season with highlight-worthy stops and improved positioning that's left many naysayers pleased, if not baffled.

Perhaps the most telling sign in the shift surrounding Gerber's perception appeared in Thursday's Sun, when only 20% of voters in an online poll indicated that Emery should be given the No. 1 job when he returns from injury.

Hot goaltending trumps all, yet Emery has strong support. It's also much harder to allow a netminder to sit for an extended period when he's making $2.75 million this season.

If it weren't for Emery, the Senators may not have had a crack at the Stanley Cup last year. However, if he returns in the near future and falters, the snap judgments will likely come, regardless of history. Yet knowing what he's capable of, do you allow him a grace period?

On the other hand, if it weren't for Gerber, the Senators may not have experienced such a strong start this year.

Do you give the job back to your perceived No. 1 because the "backup" had a weak outing, or do you let him attempt to remedy the situation?

Snap judgments will come in the upcoming weeks, but to be fair, cooler heads must prevail to allow both goalies a proper shot. Only then will we discover the real No. 1.


Videos

Photos