The Ottawa Senators are slowly crawling out of the early season hole they dug for themselves.
Ottawa seeks its sixth win in seven games when it faces the struggling Florida Panthers at Scotiabank Place on Thursday night.
One of the league’s top teams for years, the Senators (12-12-1) were one of the season’s biggest disappointments early on as they struggled to win six of their first 17 games. They have reversed their fortunes of late, reaching the .500 mark with a 4-1 road victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
Gerber, a member of Carolina’s Stanley Cup team last season, made his first start in eight games.
“You try to put him in a position where there’s a little bit of pressure, but also he had played here before and he knew the shooters, they knew him,” Senators coach Bryan Murray said. “I really felt if he could beat this team, then he was certainly on pace to be back where he should be, and that’s playing quite often.”
Although Gerber played well, Ray Emery figures to be back in net Thursday.
Emery had his four-game win streak snapped with a 3-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Sunday. He has been particularly good at home, allowing seven goals during a four-game win streak there.
Several of the Senators’ top offensive players have picked up their play lately.
Right wing Dany Heatley has four goals and five assists in his last six games, including his second hat trick of the season in a 6-4 victory at Florida on Friday. Center Jason Spezza has six points in his past six contests, while Fisher has three goals and seven assists in his last eight games.
Ottawa could get defenseman Anton Volchenkov back Thursday. He has missed the past two games with a lower body injury.
“If he’s fine to play, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be 100 percent but close to it, then we’ll let him play,” Murray said. “Otherwise, we’ll make him wait another game.”
Florida (8-13-5) finds itself mired in a four-game losing streak for the second time this season following a 1-0 shootout defeat at Montreal on Tuesday.
The Panthers were shut out for the second consecutive game, wasting another outstanding performance from goaltender Alex Auld.
The five-year veteran turned away 39 shots after making 27 saves in a 1-0 loss at Atlanta on Saturday. He became the second goalie to record a shutout in a loss, joining Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff, who did it Dec. 6 against Philadelphia.
“It’s frustrating, I guess, but at the same time we’re playing better and we’re that close, and we’ve got to keep that in mind and realize that a goal here and there can really make a difference for us,” Auld said.
Florida hasn’t scored since Gary Roberts’ goal 3:39 into the third period in Friday’s loss to Ottawa. It has gone two hours, 21 minutes and 21 seconds without a goal.
The Senators are 6-1-1 in their last eight meetings with the Panthers.