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Tweetmail No. 250: Surprises, Hurdles & Lines

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / Hurricanes.com

Hello and welcome to Tweetmail presented by Segra. This is a regular feature on Hurricanes.com in which I answer your Twitter questions, which are mostly about the Carolina Hurricanes, but sometimes also about travel or television or life. It's a mailbag of tweets. It's Tweetmail. Maybe you learn a little something, and maybe we have some fun, too.

Let's get to it.

Which player has surprised you the most so far? - @MarcusZhang7

I'm overthinking this question, but let's talk it type it through.

Andrei Svechnikov leads the team with six goals and nine points in the first eight games of the season, but I'm not so sure that's surprising given that we know he's such an elite talent. Is it good? Absolutely. Great, even. But not surprising.

Vincent Trocheck has scored five goals and ranks third in points with seven through eight games, but I don't think that's all that surprising either, given that he's proven capable of this type of production. If he can maintain this level, the Canes are going to be dangerous down the middle all season long.

Sebastian Aho is a point-per-game player through eight games (2g, 6a). That's not surprising. Jordan Staal has found the scoresheet with regularity since returning to the lineup and has six points (1g, 5a) in as many games. That's not surprising to me or Rod Brind'Amour.

"I always see him play well. Everybody gets kind of caught up in points to play well, and that's not really how I judge it. He always plays well," Brind'Amour said on Tuesday night. "It's nice to see him get on the scoresheet, but if you really watch his game, he's had those chances, and he sets up people all the time. … He is very, very valuable to us, no doubt."

With all that said, I'm going with Nino Niederreiter as my early surprise. He's scored four goals in the first eight games, this after he netted just 11 in 67 games last season. It's not his goal scoring that's a surprise - we all saw what he did in early 2019 after the Canes acquired him from Minnesota, right? It's that he's found his scoring touch this early in the season that's the pleasant surprise for me.

I had Niederreiter pegged as an important piece for the Canes heading into this season. The team needed him to rediscover his post-trade form that helped propel the Canes to the playoffs for the first time in a decade. I was hoping we'd see that manifest at some point in the season, but I'm not sure I expected to see it this early. In fact, the season wasn't even four minutes old when Niederreiter got on the board, and it was pretty.

Video: CAR@DET: Niederreiter scores on gorgeous passing play

Fast forward a couple of games, and Niederreiter let go of a rocket of a shot to tie Dallas late, a game the Canes ended up winning in the shootout.

Video: DAL@CAR: Niederreiter snipes top shelf to level game

On Thursday night in Chicago, Niederreiter scored 42 seconds into the second period, which jumpstarted the Canes for a brief while. It was a signature Niederreiter goal, too, as he posted up at the front of the net and chipped in a loose puck.

Video: CAR@CHI: Niederreiter finds twine from in close

Niederreiter has been a crucial piece to the Canes' top six in the first weeks of the season. He's scored big goals at big times. That's exactly what the team needed from him, and while it might not necessarily be surprising given his past production, the fact that he's back on track this early in the season is an encouraging sign for the road ahead.

Will we get to see the SAT line together again at some point this season? - @BornACaniac

Probably so. It's inevitable at some point that Brind'Amour will load up that top line and let them go to work. We haven't really seen that yet, but that's no cause for concern. If the Canes can balance out their forward lines, it forces the opponent to pick a poison. Do you send out your best against Aho and Teuvo Teravainen? Do you try to shut down Trocheck and Niederreiter? Or do you keep an eye on Svechnikov, wherever he is in the lineup? Svechnikov's production through eight games shows how dangerous he is, no matter who he plays with. He's going to score goals, especially when Staal is shrugging off defenders and casually setting up goals with one-handed, backhand centering feeds.

Video: CAR@CHI: Svechnikov buries great feed from Staal

Given how many teams have been postponing games due to COVID-19, has there been any discussion to shorten the season more or to create more time between games? - @gdizz79

Even though a number of teams, the Canes included, have run into early-season COVID-19 issues, I think it's still too early to consider shortening the season or revising the schedule in any drastic fashion. The goal is for every team to play all 56 games, obviously. Most teams, if not all, will get there. Will there be some that don't? Maybe. It depends how many more teams experience viral outbreaks. If by early May it's unfeasible for some teams to play the totality of their regular-season schedule, I would imagine the league would determine playoff positioning using points percentage, just as they did in the 2019-20 season, when teams had played between 68-71 games at the time of the pause.

I'm optimistic that the league will clear these early-season hurdles, though. Each sports league in its endeavor to stage a bubble-less season amidst a pandemic has faced its fair share of challenges, especially in the first few weeks. Eventually, though, everyone settles into the "new normal," and things have tended to level off.

With nearly 20 percent of its regular-season schedule complete, the NHL announced additional COVID-19 preventative measures on Thursday. The most significant change is the removal of the glass behind team benches - and here's why.

Baseball games are played outside, and players can spread out and wear masks in the dugout or bullpen. Football games are played outside, and players can spread out and wear masks on the sideline. While basketball is an indoor sport, players on the bench can spread out courtside.

Tweet from @MSmithCanes: No glass behind the benches in Chicago, in accordance with the league's new COVID-19 preventative measures. https://t.co/FfrLZpozrm pic.twitter.com/Ftdu5tmQ2m

The hockey bench, meanwhile, is an issue. Players are jammed up against each other, shoulder to shoulder. They're breathing heavy after a hard shift and talking through strategy with their teammates, but because line changes so often happen on the fly, mask wearing is somewhat infeasible. Removing the glass behind the bench creates more air flow in an otherwise tight space, which will hopefully be effective in mitigating airborne viral transmission.

Why didn't the NHL build in more of a gap between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs? - @BuzzMongold

They did, sort of. On the list of key dates for the season, you'll notice asterisks beside May 11, when the Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin, and July 15, the last possible date for the Stanley Cup Final. These dates are subject to change, and I'd wager that there's probably a week or so of wiggle room just in case.

Are we using a recorded goal horn or the actual thing? - @JerseyBoyWeston

The actual thing. Always the actual thing. Except in the Toronto bubble when the actual thing was, well, impossible to transport.


Join me next week for more questions and more answers.

If you have a question you'd like answered or you love hearing the Canes' goal horn as much as I do, you can find me on Twitter at @MSmithCanes, or you can drop me an email.

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