The puck stops where?

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

Never accuse Craig Hartsburg of being influenced by numbers or popular beliefs.

At least not when it comes to his goalies.

Determined to solidify Martin Gerber's status as the Senators' No. 1 netminder, Hartsburg yesterday announced his starting rotation for the rest of the week. Some might say it defies logic.

Gerber will work tonight's game at Scotiabank Place against the Florida Panthers, Alex Auld will get the call for Friday's home game against the Anaheim Ducks, and Gerber will be back in goal when Ottawa visits the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday.

"We've got a busy schedule coming here, and I've thought Gerber has played very well," Hartsburg said of his decision. "I want to get him back in the net again. He'll play two out of three this week instead of playing back to back."

In fact, Gerber's stats indicate he's actually not playing "very well." He has now gone two straight games without surrendering a really weak goal -- and he did make two or three big saves in last Saturday's loss to the Boston Bruins -- but the bottom line is he has won just one of four starts.

Also, Gerber's 3.46 goals- against average was 26th best in the league heading into last night's games, while his .896 save percentage ranked 18th.

Then there's Auld.

For the third straight game, the big backup will watch from the end of the bench as a former team of his takes on the Senators. Obviously, Hartsburg is unlike the good number of coaches who abide by the theory that players bring extra motivation into a game against a team that dumped them. Otherwise, Auld would play tonight and Gerber would go up against his former Ducks mates Friday.

And giving Gerber back-to- back starts wasn't an issue last week.

'BEST WAY TO GO'

"We feel this is the best way to go this weekend," said Hartsburg, who makes his final decision after consulting with goalie coach Eli Wilson.

Showing no signs of bitterness over not getting a chance to prove the Panthers wrong for cutting him after the 2006-07 season is Auld, who won his only game to date as a Senator and would have had a shutout had it not been spoiled by a power-play goal two seconds from the final buzzer.

"Like I've said in the past, when you play for that many teams you can't expect to always play against your former teams," said Auld, whose list of ex-clubs also includes the Vancouver Canucks. "Obviously it would be nice, but it's not a huge concern. I guess I've sort of grown to not let stuff bother me.

"I've said all along, ideally everyone wants to play every game, but it's not the way it works," added Auld, who on Friday will be working the pipes for the first time in 19 days. "I was fully aware of the situation coming here, I look at it, the situation, the schedule, really it's been tough to get either of us games."

Meanwhile, Hartsburg has been encouraged by the work ethic of the players in the two days of practice since he ripped into them for their lack of competitiveness. He's also anxious to see how his new lines connect in a game, and how his top players (specifically Jason Spezza) respond to new challenges.

"One of the hardest things in the world to do is change," said Hartsburg. "There are easy ways to do it, and there are other days we've got to be very blunt and honest in where we are and where we're going."

About how long Spezza and Dany Heatley will remain apart, he added: "You try to do what's best for your team. Right now, I think this is the best scenario.

"That might change in a month, or two weeks or a week, I don't know. After training camp, we felt it was the best thing to put them together, and right now we don't think it is."

"Your best players are your identity as your team. Right now, we're kind of in and out. We play good and we play not so good. We're trying to get consistent."


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