What are some changes we could see on March 4 when fans are back at PNC Arena? - @thatcrazycaniac
The game experience is going to look and feel a little different than it usually does, but the same is true around the league, and this should come as no surprise.
Masks are required, but this is a norm in all facets of public life right now. Same with physical distancing, as seats will be grouped into pods. All transactions from ticketing to concessions and merchandise will be cashless. Limited grab-and-go food and beverage options will be available. Tailgating is not permitted, and no bags (with some exceptions) will be allowed in.
Additional protocols laid out by the league restrict certain aspects of in-game entertainment, such as no promotions taking place on the ice, but there will still be some recognizable staples. It will be an intimate experience with only a fraction of a full building, and even with the low hum of artificial crowd noise, you might be able to hear some chatter from the ice or benches that you aren't typically privy to.
In the end, it's still a live National Hockey League game, and it will have been more than a full calendar year since one was hosted with fans at PNC Arena. Even having just a couple thousand in attendance will make a difference in game atmosphere, and I know the team can't wait to hear the support of loyal Caniacs. It should be fun and, most importantly, safe!
What three things do you like the most about how the Canes have played thus far? What are your thoughts on the play of some of the younger players? - @dabrams2021
(Two questions that are really, like, triple that. Very sneaky, Doug!)
Here are three things I like most about how the Canes have played thus far.
1. They've shown they can play with and beat any team.
When the Canes returned from a temporary COVID-19 shutdown in late January, they iced a depleted lineup in three games against the two Stanley Cup finalists from 2020 - and then they won all three.
"That is how it's supposed to look," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said after an overtime shutout of Tampa Bay. "It doesn't really matter who goes in."
Though the Canes finished 1-3-0 against the Lightning in the last week, each game could have gone either way. Take the series finale on Thursday, for instance. If the Canes play that game again, they probably win eight out of 10 times. It was fast hockey. It was hard-nosed hockey. It was entertaining hockey. It was two good teams battling it out in a mini playoff-style series in late February, and my bet is we'll see these two teams square off again in an actual playoff series this year.
2. The offense hasn't been one-dimensional.
One of my biggest questions coming into the season was secondary scoring for the Canes. We know what Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen can do. But where else could they get contributions? Jordan Staal has 15 points (7g, 8a) in 17 games. Nino Niederreiter is tied for the team lead in goals with nine. Vincent Trocheck is nearly a point-per-game player with 16 points (9g, 7a) in 18 games. Brock McGinn already has seven goals, equaling his total in 68 games last season.
And just wait - Svechnikov scored six of his seven goals in his first eight games, and he has just one goal in the 11 games since. But once he gets another? The floodgates will open.
3. There's still more to give.
Here's maybe the best part: The Canes are 12-6-1 with 25 points in 19 games. That's easily a playoff pace. Sure, the team is on a three-game skid, but it's just the first time this season the Canes have lost consecutive games - and it happened against the defending Cup champs. There's no reason to smash the panic button now, and just the fact that there is bubbling frustration shows how high expectations have been set. This is a team that expects to win each and every night.
As for my thoughts on the younger players, I think they've all acclimated themselves well. Martin Necas is a budding talent. Watching him dance around the ice with the puck is so much fun to watch, and it's only a matter of time before he starts finding the back of the net with regularity. Jake Bean is cementing himself as an NHL defenseman. He walks the line with poise to create shooting and passing lanes that might not otherwise exist. Steven Lorentz is going to score his first career NHL goal any game now. He came maddeningly close on Thursday in Tampa, but Curtis McElhinney stretched out his right toe to make a remarkable save. And let's not forget Alex Nedeljkovic, who is looking ever more comfortable in net with each start.
Obvious one… When is Petr going to be back? - @AirJlb
I think we still have to consider Petr Mrazek week-to-week at this point. Mrazek participated in practice on Tuesday for the first time since undergoing surgery on his right thumb, but he was limited in what he could do. He was stickhandling prior to the first whistle, but when he jumped between the pipes during drills, he took shots without a stick.
There's still some discomfort with that blocker thumb - a critical digit when it comes to holding a stick - but progress is progress. It was just a couple of weeks ago that Mrazek first got back on the ice, and he's been steadily increasing his on-ice workload since. Once he begins to actively participate in practice while holding a stick is when I think we can consider him day-to-day and expect an imminent return.
Do you think we will be busy for the trade deadline? - @tw1st3d_w1ll
The trade to acquire Cedric Paquette from the Ottawa Senators and the subsequent move to offload Alex Galchenyuk that followed spelled a two-fold benefit for the Canes. In addition to adding a missing element to their lineup, the team also freed up ever-precious salary cap space.
Even in swapping Ryan Dzingel for Paquette and Galchenyuk, the Canes saved in $675,000 in cap space. Then, by sending Galchenyuk's contract back north of the border, the Canes freed up an additional $1.05 million for a total net savings of $1.725 million.
Even still, a truly impactful move at the April 12 trade deadline might have to involve money going both ways, but any extra cap space the Canes can bank is valuable moving forward.
"We're giving ourselves some breathing room," President and General Manager Don Waddell told me recently. "You never know when that one deal might come along, and you want to make sure you're in a position to capitalize on it to make your team better. This gives us much more opportunity as we move forward."
Come playoff time, do you have any predictions as to who will constitute the third pairing? - @mo_toews
I'm not even sure I could tell you what the third defensive pairing is going to be tomorrow night, let alone two-and-a-half months from now.
But, with the way Jake Bean has acclimated himself in the last couple of weeks, I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the mix come mid-May.
More questions and answers coming your way soon!
If you have a question you'd like answered or you love the finale of "Lost" still to this day like I do, you can find me on Twitter at @MSmithCanes, or you can drop me an email.