Monday, December 15, 2008
According to the Sens' official website, Martin Gerber will get his third start in four games tomorrow, after going more than a month between starts. It means, obviously, that previously de facto starter Alex Auld will play the role of back-up for the third time in four games, despite being eighth in GAA (2.21) and twelfth in save percentage (.919) in the NHL (Gerber's GAA is 3.40 and his SP is .880).
Despite struggling at the start of the season, you can't say anything bad about Gerber's play in the last three games. He's allowed three goals in those starts, which include his 2-0 shutout win over Tampa Bay on Saturday and two losses: 2-0 to Chicago (with an empty-netter) and 2-1 to Carolina. So you can't make any complaints about his play of late.
The peculiar thing about Craig Hartsburg's decision, though, is that you can't really complain about Auld's play at all this season. He has allowed nine goal in his last two games played, but his team hadn't given him much help--particularly in the 5-1 loss to Washington (which, for the record, never happened). Still, it's rare for a goaltender to lose the starting role without actually playing poorly to justify that loss.
Plus, there's what I've taken to calling "The Gerber Effect." It seems whenever Darth Gerber is given something to lose, he overthinks his job, gets nervous, and loses it. At the start of 2006-07, he played terribly and lost the position to Ray Emery. He played well to begin 2007-08 (when Emery was injured and there was no one to challenge him), but once Emery came back, he started playing poorly again--and, in the playoffs, the team was so bad that he really had nothing to lose, anyway, which explains his solid play against Pittsburgh. And then again, at the start of this season when he was announced the unchallenged number one, he spoiled somewhat good goaltending with absolutely abysmally weak goals. His solid wins in the supporting role have been because he's fighting from a weaker position, and he's got nothing to lose.
Then again, this may simply be a way for Hartsburg to get both goaltenders in form and yet also well-rested for the upcoming extended road trip. From Dec. 23 (partially interrupted by the Christmas and New Year's breaks), the team embarks upon an eight-game, 17-night road trip through Philly, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, back to Ontario (Toronto) and then three games in the northeastern United States--and both goalies will most certainly be used on this road trip.
However, let's not forget the game on Tuesday is against the Atlanta Thrashers. Not that Ottawa--25th in the league right now, five points ahead of last-place Tampa Bay--is in much of a position to take any opponent lightly, but there is really no excuse for a loss to Atlanta. And if Hartsburg decides to use his backup (or at least 1B goaltender) for such a game, it might be a good decision.
I guess we'll have to wait and see how this thing works out. I don't want to call it a goaltending controversy yet, and I don't think that either goaltender will complain publicly enough to turn it into a bona fide controversy, anyway. But Auld hasn't played himself out of starter's position yet, and I--after defending Gerber at the start of the year--am not quite ready to put my weight behind him again. Twice bitten, third time shy, I guess.