Somewhere in Ottawa, Martin Gerber must be laughing to himself.
He has reason to chuckle, thankfully because November '07 has proven far different than November '06. He received the opportunity he desired as a regular starter when Ray Emery took longer than expected to recover from off-season wrist surgery.
The load was lightened by the Sens' excellent start to the season and most amusingly, the naysayers -- both fans and media -- have jumped on his bandwagon so fast, it's a wonder no one has injured their quadriceps yet.
Gerber assisted in setting the team's new record of eight straight victories. He stood tall in a shootout against the Bruins last week. Best of all, Gerber's name tops the NHL leaderboard for goaltending wins (10, prior to yesterday's game vs. the Canadiens).
His confidence is buoyed, his positioning has improved, his rebounds have a planned direction (and better yet, his teammates are aware of where they are headed) -- everyone is talking about Gerber and what he's been doing.
However, what the 33-year-old hasn't done during his time with the Senators is just as intriguing.
Gerber's stay in Ottawa has been a dramatic one to be sure -- a tale of money, talent, high expectations and the battle to be No. 1. But fortunately for the Senators, none of the drama was made evident off-ice. The 'tender didn't make a peep when Emery seized his position last fall, and has said very little about his resurgence this season.
CARES VERY MUCH
But don't mistake silence for an apathetic stance. It's obvious Gerber cares very much about his play, and he surely wanted to build on last season when he went 10-for-12 down the stretch. His work showed significant improvement when measured against the earlier starts that had disappointed franchise followers. And while Ottawa's media criticism typically equates to a slap on the wrist, no one enjoys receiving a dressing-down in public.
HANDLED WITH GRACE
Gerber has handled every situation with grace since his arrival -- from questions surrounding his consistency in close games, to the hiring of Eli Wilson as the Senators' goaltending coach (Wilson has close ties to Emery, having worked with him as an off-season instructor). No. 29 had been given more than enough ammunition to make life very uncomfortable for the Senators in the media if he felt like it -- he could have demanded a trade or expressed pointed displeasure. Luckily for Ottawa, that's not the backstopper's style and with his game on the upswing, it provides little reason for critique on either side.
Unfortunately, it appears the Senators still haven't achieved harmony on both sides of their goaltending equation. Emery has recently been thrust into the spotlight, due to his play (eight goals against in two games, although to be fair, he lacked some support in both tilts) and rumblings of his apparent unhappiness at having only three starts under his belt this year. One will naturally assume that a netminder is never content to ride the pine at any time. However, when the media hears of a stated displeasure, the problem is magnified and perception alters. How does it look when one goaltender sat silently for the majority of the season, while the other has yet to make it through November before people caught wind of his moody demeanour? Coach John Paddock may feign indifference, but he knows the truth: This issue could become a distraction if not dealt with properly.
Gerber's play this season has been great, and for that he deserves credit. But no one should forget that in times of trial, this guy doesn't rock the boat. Right now the same cannot be said for all Senators, despite their smooth sailing so far.