Monday, August 18, 2008

Is Gerber good enough?

This city has it's fair share of Martin Gerber doubters, from my own Sens Army comrade Ben to Jeremy Milks from Black Aces and James Gordon from the Ottawa Citizen's Hockey Capital blog. The reason for this doubt is simple: Every season where Gerber has been pegged as a starter, he's either lost the job to a younger goaltender (though not always by his own fault, like in 2005-06 when he had the flu) or played so inconsistently that he should have lost his starting job, if his backup (which was Ray Emery last season) had been able to play remotely well.

Adding to the doubt is the reputation of incoming Alex Auld. Even if he may not have the skills to be a starter, his composure, size, and consistency are assets that Sens fans have been thirsting for in a goaltender.

Which begs the question: Why do I think that Martin Gerber will answer his critics with his best regular-season and post-season as an Ottawa Senator? It might be blind, hopeful optimism, or it might be that my reasons will actually hold water. Allow me to explain...

Gerber had an absolutely terrible 2006-07. I will be the first to admit, and I'm sure the man himself would be a close second. But, despite what people have been saying about him, in 2007-08 he showed a lot of improvement. His rebound control was lacking at the beginning, but the defence were able to collapse around him and clear the loose pucks. With such a defensive-minded d-corps this season--featuring Anton Volchenkov, Chris Phillips, Jason Smith, and likely Christoph Schubert--that shouldn't change much. It might be harder to get pucks out of the zone, but there's not much chance of the other team scoring when the puck is in the corner or behind the goal line. Positioning has traditionally been his strongest asset, and that was the case last season.

The playoffs last season were a disaster, as well. Gerber, along with Nick Foligno, Cody Bass, and Shean Donovan, was one of few players who actually demonstrated some interest in putting forward a full effort, and that did show in his .912 save percentage--despite a 4-0 record. With some offensive output surrounding him (more than 5 goals in 4 games) and he might get some wins.

Although Auld will push Gerber for the starting position, I think that will be good for both of them--and for the team. Auld is going in with the knowledge that he'll play second-string, and experience in that role. He is more than capable of playing 20-30 games a season, and that leaves about the perfect number for Gerber to play.
Finally, The Gerber has a lot to prove. After appearing to be one of the league's best goaltenders, he's fallen off the radar and most pundits don't even have him in the top 30 anymore. Fair or not, that's the truth. And, with this a contract season, he's going to have to show that he's got what it takes to be a starter in the NHL if he wants more money.
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