May the best man win

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

Win and you're in.

That would be my approach to the Senators' goaltending situation.

Coach John Paddock said yesterday he hasn't thought at all about the division of labour between Martin Gerber and Ray Emery, which struck me as kind of funny because everybody else has.

Paddock said yesterday he won't think about it until tomorrow when he'll have to chose between One and One-Ray to start against the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night at Scotiabank Place.

All Gerber has done is pretty much be the best goaltender in the NHL over the first half-dozen games of the season and, given his chuck of the puck to centre ice in New York on Saturday night, he might have the third-best arm on the Yankees' pitching staff, too.

Gerber has been as much of a reason as any for the Senators sitting at 6-1 after having to endure the convenience-store special ("7-in-11") to start the season.

He was brilliant against the Rangers when the Senators needed a bounce-back game after suffering their first loss of the season Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

It took a year, but Gerber's finally playing like a $3.7 million US-a-year goaltender.

Actually, that's not fair.

With the way he's been playing, he's been a bargain at $3.7 million.

Now, here comes Emery.

He had his surgically-repaired left wrist (enter "surgically repaired" and "Emery" on Google and you get 47,900 results) wrapped in ice after practice yesterday, but he's ready to go.

Unfortunately for the fashionably resplendent Emery and Gerber and the rest of the Senators, right now they are all dressed up with nowhere to go. They are in a stretch right now in which they have only three games in 18 days.

They host the Habs on Thursday and Jacques Martin and the Florida Panthers on Saturday and then they're off for another six days before they go to Newark to help open the Prudential Center.

I think Gerber and Emery will split the two games here and here's hoping they are eventful, otherwise with six days off before the next game, you could be reading a lot of stories like "The Senators Top Ten Moments in the Continental Airlines Arena" and nobody wants that (my No. 1 would be Bruce Gardiner taking a puck in the teeth in the warmup and then scoring the overtime winner in the first game of their opening round series in 1998).

After that, why not just make it clear to the boys that if you win, you get to start the next game?

Try that for a while.

The Senators and their fans can hope Gerber keeps playing the way he has to start the season and Emery can find an alarm clock, a clear route on the Queensway and play like he did in helping the Senators get to the Stanley Cup final.

Then the problem becomes paying GM Bryan Murray's cellphone bill because he will become a popular man among some of his peers.

In the meantime, one of the interesting things to watch --the changing "dynamic" as some of our TV friends might say -- is how does Gerber react to having some competition for the job?

Gerber had a great year in 2005-06, running up a 38-14-6 record in 60 games along with a 2.78 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.

His competition for the regular season was a young rookie named Cam Ward, who played in 28 games, had a 3.68 GAA and an .882 save percentage.

During his recent hot run to start the season, Gerber was backed up by rookie Brian Elliott, whose previous claim to fame was an outstanding collegiate career at Wisconsin and being the only guy in the ninth round of the 2003 draft we've ever heard of.

Don Cherry opined on Coach's Corner recently that Gerber only plays well when he's the clear No. 1.

"Remember last year I said this guy is a terrific goaltender and everybody laughed at me?" Don Cherry offered in his debut this season.

"I got the guy figured out .... he cannot be pushed."

But, then again, who the hell is Don Cherry?

TALE OF THE TAPE

MARTIN GERBER

5-FOOT-11, 211 LBS.

- Catches: Left

- NHL Seasons: 5

- Career Statistics:

Record: 75-47-7-9

GAA: 2.52

Shutouts: 8

- Salary cap hit: $3.7M

RAY EMERY

6-FOOT-2, 196 LBS.

- Catches: Left

- NHL Seasons: 5

- Career Statistics:

Record: 59-27-0-10

GAA: 2.59

Shutouts: 8

- Salary cap hit: $3.167M


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