TORONTO - Martin Gerber got the starting assignment for Ottawa's season opener in Toronto on Wednesday night - just like a year ago.
Except this time he was only in because No. 1 goalie Ray Emery remains out with an injury. Last year Gerber began the season as the top dog after signing an US$11.1-million, three-year deal. He didn't last long as the starter.
The Senators, like him, struggled out of the gates. By the time they turned things around, it was Emery leading the way in goal, Gerber relegated to the bench as the backup. Not exactly what he had in mind when he left Anaheim as a free agent, wanting to get out from behind of J.S. Giguere's shadow.
By the time Gerber played some decent games for the Senators last season it was too late, Emery was the man for good.
"It was frustrating, yes," Gerber said after Wednesday's pre-game skate at Air Canada Centre.
So frustrating, he revealed, that the off-season trade GM Bryan Murray was reportedly trying to pull off would not have bothered him. Murray, however, couldn't find a taker for the $3.7-million salary Gerber will earn this year and next.
"What I was looking for is to get ice time," said Gerber. "I didn't want to be in the situation I was in last year. But it wasn't in my hands. It's the team that decides what's best for them.
"I'm happy to be here, it's a great group of guys, a great organization."
What's the old adage? Some of the best trades sometimes are the ones GMs don't make? If Gerber rebounds and gives the Sens the kind of goaltending they were expecting to begin with, Ottawa will be deep in net with the Emery-Gerber 1-2 punch. It will especially afford Emery as much time as needs to recover from the left wrist surgery he had in June.
"I just look at it that we have two good goalies and one happens to be hurt right now," said Sens head coach John Paddock. "I don't expect our goaltending to give us very many weak games between the two of them. (Gerber) going to carry the load here (early on)."
Gerber seems to have won over his teammates as well with a solid pre-season.
"He's had a great camp," said veteran defenceman Chris Phillips. "And coming off a strong second half last year - albeit not in the position he wanted - he kind of got pushed to the No. 2 job, but he stayed positive and did a great job and really helped us out in that second half when we turned things around.
"Hopefully he can pick up where he left off and we can move forward with that."
Maybe it's by default, with Emery out, but Gerber knows the chance that's been presented early in this regular season.
"It's a great opportunity, that's for sure," said the Swiss veteran. "I just have to do what I can and everything will take care of itself."
Gerber credits a solid off-season for his strong training camp.
"I think I'm more mobile than I was last year," he said. "I feel more confident than last year."
Emery, meanwhile, skated Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre. His left wrist still bandaged, he said he wasn't sure when he'd be back.
"It's probably taking a little longer than I first thought, I have no idea," Emery said.
Either way, the Sens would welcome a stronger Gerber as insurance for Emery down the stretch.
"Obviously you need one guy going really good but it's real important to have another guy you can count on," said Phillips. "You never know when you're going to run into injuries or whatever is the case. His own confidence is huge but it certainly helps out the team when we all have confidence in his ability as well."