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Martin Gerber was banished to the bench after a rough start last season. Although he's no longer the No. 1 goaltender for the Ottawa Senators, his team may have a tough time sitting him down this time around.
Gerber and the Senators (4-0-0) look to continue their winning streaks when they face the Atlanta Thrashers (0-2-0) on Wednesday at Philips Arena.
Gerber has posted a 1.73 goals-against average in winning each of the Senators' games while Ray Emery, who came into the season as Ottawa's top goalie, recovers from offseason surgery on his left wrist.
Gerber's run began last season. He's won all seven of his starts - a career high - while recording a 1.85 GAA since March 17, and is 14-0-2 with a 2.02 GAA in 16 appearances since Dec. 23.
Before Gerber's streaks started, however, he was benched in November with a 3-8-1 record and 3.45 GAA - a move that allowed Emery to take over. Emery went 33-16-6 with a 2.47 GAA in 58 games and helped lead Ottawa into the Stanley Cup finals.
Gerber finished 15-9-3 with a 2.78 GAA in just 29 games after signing a three-year, $11.1 million contract during the offseason. This season, however, he's been indispensable as he's continued his stellar play from '06-'07.
"We've had more consistency this year," Gerber said.
Gerber and the Senators are off the to the best start in the NHL after losing to Anaheim in five games in the Stanley Cup finals. Ottawa is drawing closer to franchise records for best start, as the Senators won their first six games in 2005-06 and were unbeaten nine games into 2000-01.
"It's always a work in progress," said Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson, who leads the NHL in goals with five and is tied for the points lead at eight. "You always try to tweak some things and I'm sure the coaches will come up with things we can do a lot better, but right now we're feeling pretty good."
The Senators will look to end their struggles against Atlanta, which won both meetings at Philips Arena and three of four overall last season. Gerber is 3-4-0 with a 3.50 GAA in nine games against the Thrashers, including 0-2-0 with a 4.11 GAA in four appearances in Atlanta.
The Senators have killed off all 21 short-handed situations this season. They were a man down only once in a 4-2 victory over New Jersey on Monday.
That won't help the Thrashers, who have just three goals in their two games. Playing for the second time in as many nights Saturday, Atlanta lost 5-2 at Tampa.
"It's not the game that we wanted," coach Bob Hartley said. "They took control of the game right from the start. It's not the start we wanted, but there's still plenty of hockey to be played."
Atlanta is off to its worst start since going winless in its first 10 games of 2002-03, when it opened 0-8-1 with a tie.
Forwards Dany Heatley of the Sens and Marian Hossa of the Thrashers will meet for the ninth time - fifth in Atlanta - since they were traded for each other before the 2005-06 season. Heatley has five goals and three assists in the head-to-head showdowns, while Hossa has recorded three goals and 12 assists.
Heatley has four goals and three assists in 2007-08 after receiving a six-year, $45 million contract extension before the season. Hossa only has one goal.
"Right now, we're getting outworked," Hossa said. "It's going to take a little time to adjust, we've got lots of new guys and we're trying to find chemistry on the lines."
The Thrashers' Kari Lehtonen is 4-3-0 with a 2.75 GAA in eight games against Ottawa.