With Ray Emery in goal for much of last season, the Ottawa Senators ended up losing in the Stanley Cup finals. With Martin Gerber and Brian Elliott between the pipes so far in 2007-08 while their starter recovers from an injury, Ottawa is establishing itself as an early favorite make a return trip.
The unbeaten Senators will face arguably their toughest test this season as they welcome the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night to Scotiabank Place.
Emery supplanted Gerber as a starter en route to career highs of 33 wins and five shutouts during the 2006-07 regular season to help lead Ottawa to its first Cup finals, where it lost to Anaheim in five games. Even with Emery undergoing offseason wrist surgery, the Senators' goaltending situation was fairly stable with Gerber - a former starter for the Hurricanes - again thrust into that role and Elliott as his backup.
"We were hungry and excited to get this season started," said Dany Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer for Ottawa. "Everybody talks about a letdown after going to the finals, but I don't feel that."
Gerber, who teamed with current Carolina netminder Cam Ward in the Hurricanes' championship run in 2005-06, helped Ottawa win its first four games. Elliott made his NHL debut on Wednesday, and stopped 27 shots in a 3-1 win.
"It was a surprise," said Elliott, who played college hockey at Wisconsin and was the 291st overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft. "You're nervous. You're playing in the NHL. It's a game you have to be prepared for, and I was prepared."
After Chris Kelly scored early for Ottawa, Antoine Vermette's goal 1:42 into the third period snapped a 1-all tie. Joe Corvo added an insurance goal off assists from Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, who extended their season-long point streaks.
Alfredsson has five goals and four assists to lead the Senators with nine points. Spezza has yet to score a goal, but has a team-high eight assists.
Ottawa, which has scored a league-high 16 goals, will be looking to open a season with six straight wins for the second time since the end of the lockout. The Senators also have won three straight and five of six from the Hurricanes.
Carolina (2-1-1) bounced back from a shutout loss Saturday at Washington with a 7-1 rout of Toronto on Tuesday.
Balanced scoring was the key as seven players found the back of the net for the Hurricanes, including Matt Cullen. It was the first goal for Cullen, reacquired by Carolina after one season with the New York Rangers, and he also was one of four players with two assists.
"Sometimes you really need a reminder of how hard it is to win in this league," said Justin Williams, who also had a goal and two assists.
Eric Staal remained hot with a goal and assist. He has four goals, and all five of his points have come in Carolina's wins. The second overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft had just one goal and one assist in four game versus Ottawa last season.
Ward, who made 27 saves in the win over the Maple Leafs, has allowed only one goal in each of his last two starts. He's 1-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average in three games - two starts - lifetime against Ottawa.