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Northeast: What a difference a year makes for Ottawa's Gerber

by James Murphy

Senators coach John Paddock has noticed Martin Gerber’s positive outlook and also believes it has been a key to his strong start.
Martin Gerber has struggled in his last four starts for the Ottawa Senators, going 1-1-1 with a 5.17 goals-against average and .840 save percentage.

Gerber, in fact, was pulled in the second period of his last start after allowing three goals on 25 shots during a 4-3 Senators loss to the Flyers. Despite this being Gerber’s first real slump this season -- coupled with the fact that he enters tonight’s game against the Islanders with a record of 13-2-1 -- the hockey-crazed Ottawa media has been doing its best to stir up a goaltending controversy.

But the Senators remain unconcerned. Goaltending coach Eli Wilson points to the way Gerber has rebounded from a disastrous 2006-07 season.

“I’m sure there are a few goals that he wants back from the last couple games, but based on what I’ve grown to know about him, he won’t sway too low, just as he doesn’t sway too high after a good game or a win,” Wilson said. “He’ll get through this just as he got through last season, because he has the right attitude.”

As Wilson referenced, last season didn’t exactly go as planned for Gerber. After winning 38 games and a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2005-06, Gerber signed a three-year deal with Ottawa, worth $11.1 million. But he was unable to regain his 2005-06 form and eventually lost the starter’s job to Ray Emery.

Emery went on to lead his team to the Stanley Cup Final and Gerber appeared lost in the shuffle. Gerber eventually approached management about his status and reportedly requested a trade heading into the 2007 Entry Draft last June. GM Bryan Murray was unable to find a destination for Gerber, so the goaltender opted to put last season behind him and re-evaluate his game.

“I just decided that last year happened and it’s time to move on,” Gerber said. “It’s in the past and there’s nothing I can do to change it. It was hard, but what good would it do to dwell on it? So, I decided to stay positive, look at my game, and figure out what I can do better? Remaining positive and having a good attitude though was the best thing I did.”

His attitude and adjustments to his game paid off as he was given a chance to prove himself again when Emery was unable to start the season due to off-season wrist surgery. Gerber seized the opportunity, winning his first four starts and going 12-1 to start the season.

Senators coach John Paddock has noticed Gerber’s positive outlook and also believes it has been a key to his strong start.

“He had a great attitude when he came to camp this year and just basically decided to put the past behind him and see what happens,” Paddock said. “He caught a break with Ray going down with an injury and has taken advantage of this opportunity to show what he’s got.”

The other key to Gerber’s turnaround was the arrival of Wilson. Ironically, one of the reasons Wilson was brought in after Ron Low was named one of Paddock’s assistants, was his relationship with Emery. Wilson, who also runs World Pro Goaltending, had previously worked with Emery as a private coach and Emery credited him for his success last season. But Paddock alluded to Wilson’s grasp on the prominent styles of successful NHL goaltenders and the impact his teaching skills have had on other goalies like Montreal’s Carey Price.

“Despite what everyone thinks, we didn’t just bring Eli in because he was Ray’s buddy and coach,” Paddock said. “We brought him in because he’s a great teacher and coach. He has a solid grasp on the prominent style of today’s goalies, specifically the butterfly, and that is evident with the work he’s done with guys like Ray and Carey Price.

“Getting correction each day from Eli and learning to deal with the media and the demands of playing here have helped him for sure,” Paddock said of Gerber. “There have been lots of changes that he had to go through and now he’s learned from them.”

Wilson credits Gerber’s fast start to his willingness to learn from not only the past, but from each game he’s played this season.

“We got along really well and have been on the same page since day one because he’s been very receptive to everything I suggest, as well as video and on-ice review,” Wilson said. “He wanted to put last season behind him and he’s done that with forward-thinking ideas and keeping it simple.”

Gerber appreciates Wilson’s presence and help and is glad to have him around on a regular basis.

“Anytime you have a guy around day in and day out it helps because you can really connect with him, and that’s happened here,” Gerber said of Wilson’s influence. “He’s a great teacher and he’s helped me adjust to the little changes I need to make each game. He has kept me really focused.”

But after the roller-coaster ride of the last two seasons, Gerber doesn’t look too far ahead.

“I feel great right now, but I learned over the last year that you can’t take things for granted in this League,” Gerber said. “There are maybe one or two goalies in this League that can really claim they have a hold on the top spot on their team. There’s so many guys coming into the League every season and you’re always being challenged, so you just do your best every day. I’m glad I was able to move on and I’ll just keep using this approach and staying positive.

“That’s all you can do. Play your best and stay upbeat.”

Shootout summary -- Jarkko Ruutu and Erik Christensen were able to beat Gerber in the shootout last Thursday as the Penguins beat the Senators 6-5. Jason Spezza scored the lone shootout goal for Ottawa.

Last night, the Canadiens edged their rival, Toronto, 4-3 in a shootout at the Air Canada Centre. In the shootout, Canadiens forward Alex Kovalev, who had two goals in regulation, and Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who tied the game with 17.6 seconds left, were the only players to score in the first three rounds. But Montreal would emerge victorious in the fifth round when forward Andrei Kostitsyn scored and Habs goaltender Carey Price (43 saves in regulation), denied Jason Blake on the Leafs’ final chance.


Who’s hot -- The Sabres take a five-game winning streak into tonight’s game with the St. Louis Blues and they have been helped by some of their forwards catching fire offensively. Forwards Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy each have four points (two goals; two assists), in their last four games and Jochen Hecht exploded for two goals and an assist in a 3-1 win against Washington on Monday, giving him four points in his last two games. Ryan Miller has found his game again with four-straight wins. During that stretch, Miller has posted excellent numbers with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage.

While the Senators have struggled of late, their big guns are still showing up. Forward Dany Heatley scored three times and added an assist for four points in his last three games. Center Jason Spezza had a three-point night (two goals, one assist), in the shootout loss to Pittsburgh last Thursday and has five points in three games. Defenseman Wade Redden has a goal and three assists in his last three games.

The Bruins have won three of their last four games and one of the reasons has been the re-emergence of Glen Murray and Marc Savard as a one-two punch up front. Murray has three goals and four points in his last three games, including a two-goal effort in a 6-3 win against the Flyers on Monday. Savard had four points, with a goal and three assists, in that game and has six points in his last three games.

Black and blue


Boston -- Patrice Bergeron remains on the injured reserve with a concussion and broken nose. Goaltender Manny Fernandez suffered another setback last week, but this time it was his back that kept him from returning to the lineup. Fernandez, who was already on injured reserve with a knee injury, suffered back spasms and had to leave last Thursday’s practice early. Defenseman Andrew Ference is day-to-day with a knee injury and is now joined by fellow defenseman Andrew Alberts, who suffered a head injury after being hit by Flyers forward Scott Hartnell in a 6-3 win Monday night. Forward Shawn Thornton is out indefinitely with a broken bone in his left foot.

Buffalo -- Forward Drew Stafford suffered a shoulder injury last Wednesday against Ottawa and is still listed as day-to-day after missing the last three games. Forward Adam Mair is still day-to-day with a sprained right ankle. On defense, the Sabres are still without Dmitri Kalinin (knee) and Teppo Numminen (heart surgery), who remain on the injured reserve, The team is also now missing defenseman Henrik Tallinder after he hurt his shoulder against Montreal on Saturday. Tallinder is listed as day-to-day.

Ottawa -- Forward Patrick Eaves is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury after colliding with Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell in last Wednesday’s 4-2 loss at Buffalo. Captain Daniel Alfredsson is expected to return from a groin injury tonight the Senators play the Islanders.

Toronto -- Defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo (knee) and Pavel Kubina (right MCL), are still on injured reserve.

The week ahead -- The Sabres welcome old friend Jay McKee and the St. Louis Blues to the HSBC Arena tonight and the Senators are on Long Island to face the Islanders.

Thursday, the Maple Leafs will be in Atlanta, while the Bruins begin a two-game trek in the Sunshine State against Florida.

The Canadiens play their first game at the Prudential Center on Friday against the Devils.

All five Northeast teams are in action Saturday. The Senators start things off with a 2 p.m. matinee when they host the Rangers. The Sabres host the Hurricanes; the Leafs welcome in Sidney Crosby and the Penguins; the Predators are at Montreal and the Bruins finish their Florida trip in Tampa Bay.

The Bruins will be the lone Northeast team in action Monday as they travel to Long Island to face the Islanders for the third time in 10 days.

Tuesday, the Canadiens and Red Wings hook-up in Montreal. Toronto hosts Nashville and the Senators are in Tampa.

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