When the Carolina Hurricanes finished up a 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday afternoon there were not many happy faces at PNC Arena, and justifiably so. The Hurricanes had just finished off a disappointing loss that they very well could have won, as key players such as Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty continued to be missing in action. There is no doubting that on the way out of the concourses various fans were calling for numerous players to be benched because of repeated poor performances, and with good reason.
One player that Carolina head coach Kirk Muller could not have been disappointed on Sunday was Justin Faulk, who continued to motor along in what has been a statement year. During the loss to the Canucks the defenseman played 26:14 — including 6:36 on the power play and 2:26 on the penalty kill — picked up one assist, and put five shots on goal.
While nothing that Faulk did was extremely flashy, it was all extremely useful and vital to the Hurricanes moving the puck and keeping Vancouver from lighting up the scoreboard. Seemingly every time he was on the ice Carolina’s breakout sprung into action, realizing that they now had a defenseman who would make smart and efficient passes out of the back end. Likewise he was slick and smooth in the defensive zone, thwarting numerous rushes from Vancouver forwards and showed the calm demeanor that any team wants from the back end.
This effective game builds upon an extremely efficient 2013-14 season for Faulk, as he has played an average of 23:50 per game, scored one goal, and contributed ten assists. Always a talented player, this season he has been extremely valuable to the Hurricanes as they have dealt with Tim Gleason going down to injury and looking like a shadow of himself while on the ice as well as Jay Harrison and Andrej Sekera both dealing with injuries in recent weeks.
A pairing with Ron Hainsey recently has been a boon for Faulk as he has been able to show his creative traits with the puck and has served as the quarterback of the Hurricanes’ offense both on the power play and on the breakout during even strength play. Whereas in past seasons there has been a seeming reluctance from Muller to let the 21 year old have free reign, he has done just that this year and to great effect.
The defenseman is one of the best with the puck at this position in all of the NHL, and he has figured out how to mix this with a tinge of physicality that has made opposing players give some respect in the corners. Resulting from this has been that Faulk has become a complete defender and one that could play on the top pairing for nearly any team in the world.
Without Faulk’s contributions the Hurricanes’ record would likely be much worse than the 10-12-5 mark they currently have. It seems like a near lock that Dan Bylsma will call on the youngster to play for Team USA during the 2014 Olympic Games. While just at the end of the 2012-13 season this would have seemed to be a foolish move it is now completely justified as the defender is quickly moving into the category of elite defensemen.