UNIONDALE, N.Y. — It’s turning into quite a work week for Carolina Hurricanes defensemen Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera.
Or in their case, just another week.
On Tuesday, Faulk and Sekera often were on the ice with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks at PNC Arena. On Thursday, it often was Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak of the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.
The Canes continue their road trip Saturday against the New York Islanders. For Faulk and Sekera, that could mean a big dose of John Tavares and Kyle Okposo at Nassau Coliseum.
“If you had asked me my rookie year if I thought I’d be playing against the top lines in the NHL, I’d probably have told you there’s not a chance,” said Faulk, in his third NHL season. “But I like it. Why not?”
Faulk and Sekera have become the Canes’ top defensive pairing. They’re logging major minutes, on the ice at key moments of games and also contributing on the power play and penalty kill.
“They’re in sync,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “As a pair they’ve been very effective.”
In a way, it’s an odd coupling. Faulk is a Minnesota kid, just 21 and a former Canes draft pick. Sekera is 27, from Slovakia, a newcomer to the Canes who was obtained this year in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres.
But the two apparently hit it off from the start.
“We went out to lunch that first day he got in to Raleigh, just sat and talked for a little bit,” Faulk said.
The talking has continued on the ice, where communication between defensemen is critical in proper positioning, in being able to pass the puck and clearing it out of the defensive zone.
“I think we read off each other well,” Faulk said. “From day one we were kind of able to pick up on how each other likes to play. There’s a lot of talk and help out there for each other, just making the short passes to each other in the D zone and getting it out.
“It’s sometimes tough to explain. You put two people together and sometimes it just works.”
Sekera said a big reason it has worked so well is that Faulk is a “smart hockey player” with few weaknesses.
“He skates well, passes the puck well, shoots well,” he said. “I think he does everything pretty well.”
Sekera smiled, adding, “I’m just trying to not be in his way when he has the puck and try to support him.”
That’s being modest. And Faulk is quick to return the praise for his defensive partner, a former Slovakian Olympian who is among the league leaders in blocked shots with 18.
“He’s a very smart player who can see the game and read the game well in all situations,” Faulk said. “He’s one of the best players I’ve seen in keeping pucks in along the boards in the offensive zone, pinching down that left side and beating his winger to keep it in. I don’t think there’s anything he does poorly.”
In the Canes’ 3-2 comeback win Thursday over the Leafs in Toronto, both Faulk and Sekera played about 25 minutes. Both spent more than four minutes killing penalties, thwarting a team that was second in the NHL on the power play.
“They want it, so we’re giving it to them,” Muller said.
Faulk and Sekera were on the ice Thursday when the Leafs’ Joffrey Lupul and Josh Leivo scored – Lupul on a scramble in front of Canes goalie Cam Ward and Leivo off the rush.
But in the final minutes of regulation, with the Leafs employing a sixth attacker and looking to tie the score, Muller turned to Faulk and Sekera.
“It’s nice being able to play in all situations,” Faulk said. “When I’m out there in the last minutes of the game, it’s something I take pride in. It’s a role I like being in.”
While the Blackhawks won Tuesday’s game 3-2 in a shootout, neither Kane nor Toews factored in the scoring. Neither did Kessel, Bozak nor Mason Raymond on Thursday.
Not all of that was Faulk’s and Sekera’s doing, but their work has been a big part of the Canes (3-2-3) – second in the Metropolitan Division – picking up three of four points in the past two games.
Tavares and Okposo each had a goal and assist Thursday as the Islanders (3-2-2) topped the Edmonton Oilers 3-2. They can be tough to handle. For Faulk and Sekera, they’re next.