|Jesse Winchester (left), Cody Bass, Brendan Bell and Dean McAmmond listen to instructions from coach Craig Hartsburg during practice Tuesday morning at Scotiabank Place.
Almost a month to the day, Martin Gerber's absence from the Ottawa Senators net will finally reach its end.
But the Swiss stopper was his typical reserved self earlier today after learning he'll be back between the pipes when the Senators face off against the Blackhawks on Wednesday night at the United Center in Chicago (8:30 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200).
"It's great. I'm definitely looking forward to tomorrow," said Gerber, who last played on Nov. 7, when the Senators dropped a 2-1 road decision to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Since then, Gerber has watched Alex Auld
start 11 straight games and build goals-against average (2.06) and save percentage (.924) numbers that rate with the best in the National Hockey League. But with his team facing a stretch of four games in six days, Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg decided the time is right to turn to Gerber again.
"With this busy week, it's a good challenge for our team and a good challenge for Martin," said Hartsburg. "We trust that Martin will go out and play a good game for us.
"He's worked hard in practice and it's a good time for him to play. With this busy week, we've got to have him (back in net)."
Centre Mike Fisher echoed those sentiments, saying "we expect (Gerber) to come in and be good for us."
"It's been a good stretch for Alex and he's played really well. Now Gerbs is getting an opportunity and we think he'll do a good job."
While Gerber (1-4-1) has been itching for this chance for awhile now, he's maintained a team-first attitude throughout it all. His typical work ethic hasn't slipped even a notch during the long hours of practice over the past month.
"It's the way it is and you have to make the best out of it," said Gerber. "That's all you can do, push hard every day and get yourself ready when the time comes. There's not much else you can do.
"It's part of the game. You do what you have to do and you move forward. It's pretty simple."
As a group, the Senators need to think the same way after Monday's disappointing 4-3 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers. Until then, the Senators had been on a 4-1-2 run but a poor start and penalty troubles sidetracked them against the Panthers on Monday night.
At 10-10-5, Ottawa currently stands 12th in the Eastern Conference, four points shy of a playoff position.
"It's unfortunate because it's a point lost for us and we're in desperate need of points right now," said captain Daniel Alfredsson
"It's the way it is and you have to make the best out of it. That's all you can do, push hard every day and get yourself ready when the time comes. There's not much else you can do." - Martin Gerber
While the Senators had several brilliant chances to pull out the game in overtime – Fisher called the extra period a "shooting gallery" – Hartsburg was left shaking his head as he pondered the first two periods, which saw the Panthers outshoot the Sens 28-19.
"This game is so mental," said Hartsburg. "We think we can be a good team, but mentally we don't allow ourselves the chance some nights to be in the game early and it's hurt us too many times. There's no reason why we can't get ourselves ready to play every night.
"We have to look at where we are and say, 'you know what, we can't take any team in this league for granted.' We're not just going to step on the ice, turn on the switch and bang, the game is ours. We have to work for it.
"If you have some good players and some skilled players, that's fine, but it all starts with work and being ready to compete and when we do those things, we look like a pretty decent team."Around the boards
Centre Dean McAmmond, who has missed five games while battling the effects of pneumonia, skated with the team today but won't make the road trip. "I was hoping to play tomorrow night," said the former Blackhawk. "But I'm still battling it." McAmmond hasn't seen game action since Nov. 22 ... After Wednesday's game in Chicago, the Senators conclude their mini-road trip on Friday in Washington against the Capitals (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200) ... The Sens are back home at Scotiabank Place on Saturday, with the Tampa Bay Lightning supplying the opposition (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). The Bolts are mired in an eight-game losing streak.