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Gerber showing fine form

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur are on deck next.

But the Ottawa Senators will happily go to bat against two of the National Hockey League’s finest with a backup goaltender who keeps showing he’s on top of his game.

Nobody’s speaking in negative tones about Martin Gerber these days. Certainly not after the back-to-back standout efforts the Swiss goaltender delivered in a pair of season-opening victories over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He made the saves he should have, and more,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said Friday morning as he reflected on Gerber’s 41-save performance against the Leafs the night before. “He played really well, he handled the traffic in front of the net really well.

“It’s one of those things. He keeps us in the game and gives us a chance to win, and we make it happen.”

A year ago, the praise wasn’t nearly as glowing. Gerber was the Senators’ big free-agent addition in net, the man brought in to be the No. 1 guy. But he struggled out of the gate, allowing Ray Emery to seize the starter’s job and keep it all the way through to the Stanley Cup final.

However, with Emery still sidelined as his left wrist mends, the spotlight has shifted back to Gerber, who carried the bulk of the load through the pre-season. His strong form there has carried over into the regular season.

“It was good to get the games in during the pre-season,” said Gerber, who’s looked technically sound so far. “I think it helped a lot.”

Not that his strong play has been any surprise to the guys who play in front of him.

“I think he’s picked up where he ended off last year,” said veteran defenceman Chris Phillips. “His season (in 2006-07) really reflected ours. We didn’t give him much help early on. We picked up our game halfway through the season and so did he. He’s more than capable of doing the job and we have confidence in him.

“We’ve got two No. 1 goalies here. That’s a good problem to have.”

Now it’s up to the rest of the team to pick up its game. The Senators were outplayed by the Leafs during stretches of both games but were the better team when it counted in the third period each night. They know more consistency is needed against Lundqvist and the Rangers, who’ll also bring big-name free-agent acquisitions Chris Drury and Scott Gomez with them to Scotiabank Place on Saturday night (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

“It’s early in the year and the most important thing is we’re getting wins. It doesn’t matter how,” said Alfredsson.  “But playing the Rangers, we have to improve to be able to win.

“We did play our best in the third (against the Leafs). That’s a good sign.”

Rink notes

The Senators sent forwards Josh Hennessy and Niko Dimitrakos to their AHL affiliate in Binghamton … 750 tickets remain for Saturday night’s game. There are 1,750 left for Monday afternoon’s visit by the New Jersey Devils.

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