Gerber: Love him or Leaf him

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

In this season gone awry, the masked man who helped drive the Senators to a destination located on the outside looking in at the playoffs can now shove them closer to the brink of official elimination as the goalie of their most hated rival.

Say hello if you made that prediction last September.

Collecting a portion of the final year of the $11.1-million contract he signed to stop pucks for Ottawa, Martin Gerber comes to town tonight trying to revive his gasping career wearing the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Senators are in the precarious position of probably needing to claim 34 of the 36 points remaining on their table to avoiding missing out on the post-season tournament for the first time in 11 years.

Gerber was 4-9-1 with a bloated 2.86 goals-against average and a subpar .899 save percentage in 14 games with the Senators before being shipped down to Binghamton and later picked up by Toronto.

He is 1-1 as a Maple Leaf, stopping 37-of-38 shots for a win over Washington, but managing to get in the way of 14-of-17 in a loss to the Oilers.

"It's unfortunate we couldn't make it work because the guys really liked Marty," Jason Spezza said yesterday. "He's a great guy in the room."

Theories abound as to why Gerber failed to live up to his billing after he was signed as a free agent by then-Senators-GM John Muckler in the summer of 2006, then failed to keep the No. 1 job out of the hands of Ray Emery.

Most popular is that he couldn't handle the heat.

"I think the pressure of playing here ... it's been a hard place to play for goalies," said Spezza. "With Ray kind of taking over the No. 1 role, I think (Gerber) felt a lot of pressure when he did get the chance to play.

"At times we didn't play great in front of him, at times he struggled, but it's just one of those unexplainable things as to why."

Sort of like a star-depleted, now injury-riddled Leafs team being five points ahead of the Senators in the standings. Ottawa has plenty of its own problems, but on paper the Battle of Ontario should be a mismatch.

But the Leafs have played well the past nine or 10 games, while the Senators are just starting to again get their act together with wins over Edmonton and Buffalo -- both in the playoff mix.

That it's widely figured they need to finish 17-1 to have a shot at the playoffs isn't pre-occupying the Senators, who at the very least have showed some self-respect by playing well in their last two games.

"I don't think that's even crept into our minds," winger Nick Foligno said of the long odds. "We're not going to be out until somebody tells us. We don't think we are, and we're going to do whatever it takes to try and make the playoffs.

"If you win all your games, you're going to give yourself the best chance to be in."

Even if it's in a spoiler's role, the Senators need something to embrace, Spezza said.

"We do care, and we're really disappointed in how our year's gone," he said. "It's disappointing for us to see what we've kind of screwed up in the first half of the season, but (winning now) also shows some promise for next year, knowing that we're a better team than our record shows."

Stretching their modest winning streak to three means beating a goalie who should be fired up.

"He's pretty good technically," Spezza said when asked about Gerber's weaknesses. "I think you've just got to put lots of pucks at him, hang around the net and get rebounds."

Spezza, meanwhile, has faith that the Pascal Leclaire experiment will turn out better.

"It's not his first time being a starter, he's got a little experience playing in Canada, by playing at the world championships and different stages of that level," Spezza said of the goalie acquired by the Senators at the deadline. "I think he's more of a guy that probably will be able to handle it the best. Ray was kind of thrown into his first starting role. It was Gerbs' first starting role. Pascal has been a starter before."


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