Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes are winning but still waiting on Nino Niederreiter to start scoring

Nino Niederreiter first redirected a pass from Jake Gardiner toward the net, only to be denied, then got a lot of stick on the puck in front of the crease with a quick backhander.

But Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jack Campbell wouldn’t allow a goal. Niederreiter, his stick lifted as the whistle blew to stop play, looked up at the blade as if was a foreign object, his head then sagging as he stared down at the ice in the first period of Tuesday’s game.

So it has been for the Carolina Hurricanes winger in the first seven games of the season. Nothing is going in.

On Monday, after the Canes’ practice at Raleigh Center Ice, Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour was asked about Niederreiter’s lack of scoring.

“Nino has had more scoring chances than probably anybody,” Brind’Amour said in a media session. “Unfortunately you look at the big saves every night for the other goalie and it’s always off Nino’s stick.

“Right now he’s just been snakebit a little. If he continues to get those opportunities, I mean he’s great goal scorer. It’s just a matter of time.”

Why the slow start for Niederreiter?

In Tuesday’s game at the Staples Center in L.A., Campbell was the “other goalie” with a couple of saves against Niederreiter. By game’s end, it didn’t matter as the Canes won 2-0 behind Petr Mrazek’s 31 stops in his fourth victory of the season.

Rookie Martin Necas had the Canes’ first goal, off a Ryan Dzingel pass, in the second period. The Canes’ second score was a shorthanded empty netter, Sebastian Aho being credited with the goal after Teuvo Teravainen knocked the loose puck toward the net during a scramble. That gave Aho his second goal of the season -- both empty-net scores -- and Teravainen his fifth assist and seventh point in the Canes’ franchise-record 6-1-0 start.

That Niederreiter has gone the first seven games without a goal isn’t unusual. A year ago, with the Minnesota Wild, the Swiss-born forward did not score in the first 14 games of the season before breaking through, against the Kings.

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Carolina Hurricanes’ Nino Niederreiter (21) moves the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period of an NHL hockey game, in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker) Karl B DeBlaker AP

Why the slow start?

“At the end of the day, it’s tough to score in this league,” Niederreiter said in a recent N&O interview, breaking it down to its simplest terms.

Once traded to the Canes, in the Jan. 17 deal that sent forward Victor Rask to the Wild, Niederreiter flourished and scoring wasn’t very tough. Niederreiter scored five goals in his first five games with Carolina and had nine goals and six assists in his first 15 games as the Canes began to push for the playoffs.

“It’s very emotional, very tough to be in a trade,” Niederreiter said. “Leaving a place you spent six years, emotion kicks in.”

It almost seemed every time Niederreiter found the puck around the net, which was often, it ended up in the net. A strong man at 6-2 and 218 pounds, he could handle himself in the rough-and-tumble areas in the low slot, get in good positions and get his shots off.

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But the goals and points came to a trickle late in the regular season and he was not an offensive factor in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He had one assist in the seven-game series against the Washington Capitals, then one goal and two assists in the four-game sweep of the New York Islanders in the second round.

Niederreiter did not have a point as the Canes were swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals. His totals for the playoffs: 15 games, one goal, three assists.

“At the end of the day do I wish I could have scored more? Of course,” Niederreiter said. “But it’s in the past and you can’t change it. It is what it is. You’re human, not machines.”

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Carolina’s Nino Niederreiter (21) and Boston’s Charlie Coyle (13) tussle on the boards during the first period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com

Giving up Niederreiter for Rask

Former Minnesota general manager Paul Fenton was castigated by Wild fans for giving up Niederreiter for Rask in a one-for-one trade. He also lost his job after the season. The deal was that one-sided.

Rask had two goals in 23 games for the Wild last season. While made a healthy scratch in some early Minnesota games this season, the center does have one goal -- yes, one more than Niederreiter, who has three assists.

Before Tuesday’s game, Brind’Amour again was asked by the media about Niederreiter and Aho and if they were due to start scoring and getting some puck luck.

“I hope so,” Brind’Amour said. “I never look at that too much. They’ve got to make sure they’re not giving up chances. That’s what we’ve got to tighten up. We’ve given up too many. Those guys will get their opportunities because they’re good hockey players but we don’t want them giving up too many.”

According to the Natural Stat Trick analytics site, Carolina had an 8-3 edge in scoring chances against the Kings when Niederreiter was on the ice.

The Canes continue their Western road trip Wednesday with a game against the San Jose Sharks, and with goalie James Reimer expected to start. Aho is expected to again center Teravainen and Niederreiter, the line looking to have more of an impact.

After Niederreiter’s two near-misses against the Kings on a first-period power play, Aho skated by and gave him a “stay-with-it” tap with his stick. For now, that’s all they can do.

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
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