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Tweetmail No. 233: Parity, Second Half & Williams

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

Hello and, for the first time in 2020, welcome to Tweetmail, a weekly feature on Hurricanes.com in which I take your Twitter questions about the Carolina Hurricanes or other assorted topics and answer them in mailbag form. Hopefully the final product is insightful to some degree, and maybe we have some fun along the way.

Let's get to it.

Being that all the Metro teams are so close in points, do you think it's going to come down to the wire again like last year when it comes to making the playoffs? - @mrswinks923

The National Hockey League now has a level of parity that's unparalleled, and the result of it is playoff races that come right down to the wire. That's exciting for the league, and it's exciting (and nerve racking) for fans. It makes the totality of the 82-game season mean something, driving momentum right into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

And just like last season, you're probably going to see the Hurricanes fighting for a playoff spot through a frantic March schedule on into the first week of April.

The Metropolitan Division is the best in hockey. The Canes are currently four points back of third, but both Philadelphia and Columbus are two points back of the Canes; that's how thin the line is currently for being in a wild card playoff spot and not.

The advantage for the Canes is that they have the higher ground. They're not having to charge up the standings with an incredible second half run like they had last season. A consistent front 41 games put the Canes in an ideal position for the back 41.

But, they're still going to have to fend off teams nipping at their heels, a group that includes Philadelphia, Columbus and Florida. One of these teams might eventually fall off the ledge, but there's bound to be some tension down the stretch of the season.

Which brings us to …

As we get into this second half of the season, what are some things you think are going to be key for the Canes in terms of ensuring themselves a spot in the playoffs again? - @swiftnhl

Consistency.

Break the first 40 games of the Hurricanes' 2019-20 season into 10-game segments. The team won six games in each of those stretches. If the Canes can replicate that pattern in the second half of the season - and it doesn't even have to be exactly six in every 10, but rather an average - then they should secure a playoff berth for the second season in a row.

What, then, do the Canes have to do in order to maintain that consistency?

A lot of it is just keep on keeping on. They rank 12th in goals for per game (3.22) and are getting contributions from around the lineup - after all, the Canes are just one of five teams who have four skaters with at least 40 points this season. A goals against per game average of 2.72 ranks seventh-best in the league. Both the power play (22.1%) and penalty kill (82.4%) rank in the league's top 10.

Something that will need to improve is the Canes' record within the Metropolitan Division, which currently sits at 4-9-1. Fourteen of the team's remaining 36 games will be played within the division, beginning with a Thursday match-up against the Blue Jackets, not to mention a four-game series with the Pittsburgh Penguins in just a three-week stretch in March. These are all critical games that could have playoff positioning implications.

Barring any injuries where do you see Justin fitting into this lineup? Hard to see who moves out, doubt he plays on the 4th line and the top 3 have all been solid. - @CaniacKid

Now that the question of, "Is Justin Williams coming back this season?" has been answered, two additional questions have emerged: "When will Justin Williams make his season debut?" and "Who does Justin Williams replace in the lineup?"

I attempted to answer both of those questions shortly after he signed with the Canes last week, and here's the latest we know.

As for the when, head coach Rod Brind'Amour had this to say after practice on Wednesday: "He's getting there. We're going to chat this weekend at some point, see where he's at and hopefully get him in soon."

I said last week, I've said it since and I'll say it again: I think Williams will play his first game at some point in the Canes' three-game homestand prior to All-Star Weekend and the bye week. Nothing is certain. It's just a hunch.

Now, where does he fit into the lineup? That's perhaps the most perplexing question at this point because right now, it's tough to point to one player who "deserves" to come out of the lineup. But, someone will have to, and perhaps it's a rotation of someones.

If the coaching staff wants to ease him back into game action with limited minutes, he could play on the fourth line alongside Lucas Wallmark or Jordan Martinook, whoever happens to be centering that trio. When he's ready to assume a bigger role, the right winger could slot in with Jordan Staal or Sebastian Aho, two centers he spent time with last season.

In any case, Williams gives the Canes' roster added depth, and the lineup will be better with him in it, whenever that may be and wherever he may be.

What is your favorite part of the Alumni Game? I have always wanted to go and play since the first time, but I had moved to Pesce's old stomping grounds in NH. - @Orzhov191

It's always a treat to see some favorites of Hurricanes past take the ice in Raleigh again, even if it is just in a friendly exhibition. And, when they dial up the all-Alumni shift, the pace picks up and you'd think some of the players could still suit up for a game today.

But ultimately, the Alumni Game gives normal folks like you and me a chance to live out a dream. You get an authentic gameday experience, from dressing in the Hurricanes' locker room, to warming up with music blaring, to being introduced in front of thousands of fans, to sharing NHL ice with former NHL players. It's such a unique experience for these participants, a fantasy come to life. Seeing the joy on their faces, from the first timers to the "veterans," makes it all worth it.

If you have the chance to play, I definitely recommend it. The organization creates a first-class weekend, an experience you won't ever forget.

What happened to the old video board? - @atrione15

I upgraded my living room television, though there's not much room for anything else now.

(If only, right?)

When Daktronics installed the new centerhung video board this summer, they dismantled the old board and hauled it off to be recycled. Think of it like a phone trade-in program but for big ol' video screens.

It's in a better place now.

***

Join me next week for a special All-Star edition of Tweetmail, featuring Dougie Hamilton's answers to your questions!

If you have a question you'd like him to answer or you just want to say hello to the Canes' All Star, you can reach out to me on Twitter at @MSmithCanes, or you can drop me an email.

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