Is Canes’ Justin Faulk more driven to succeed this season?

Carolina Hurricanes’ Justin Faulk (27) and Calvin de Haan (44) wait for a face off against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Carolina Hurricanes’ Justin Faulk (27) and Calvin de Haan (44) wait for a face off against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker) AP

Feeling the need to intercede, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk joined the fray, soon dropping his gloves.

Sebastian Aho had scored an empty-net goal, giving the Canes a 4-1 lead Friday over the Anaheim Ducks and then getting a shove from the Ducks’ Adam Henrique. Others joined in along the boards and before you know it, Faulk and Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf had the gloves off, moved away from the group and were face to face.

A few quick punches and it was over. But Faulk got everyone’s attention taking on the 6-foot- 4, 225-pound Getzlaf, the Ducks captain.

“It’s the last minute, the game’s over and they tried pushing us around a little,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said after the 4-1 win. “It’s nice to see us stick up for each other.”

A few days before, Brind’Amour had few words of praise for anyone after the Canes’ 4-1 loss at San Jose. He did make an exception.

“Faulk was our best defenseman. He was the most competitive, for sure,” he said.

It has been that kind of season for Faulk. When the Canes were undergoing an offseason makeover ordered up by new owner Tom Dundon, speculation began that Faulk might be one of those traded along with Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin.

When the Canes obtained defenseman Dougie Hamilton in the June trade with Calgary, the whispers became even louder. Hamilton was a right-hand shot. The Canes had four -- Hamilton, Faulk, Brett Pesce and Trevor van Riemsdyk.

Would Faulk be dealt?

No, he would not. Instead, the former NHL All-Star has joined Calvin de Haan in giving Brind’Amour his steadiest defensive pair.

“We’ve been together since day one, and right away at training camp we said let’s make it work,” Faulk said.

They’ve made it work. De Haan has a plus-7 plus/minus rating, the best among the D-men, and Faulk is plus-3 after 28 games.

“We’re comfortable with each other,” Faulk said. “We’re not the same player, but we’re comfortable with what each other brings to the table.”

De Haan signed a four-year, free-agent deal in July with Carolina, but came in having missed the final 49 games last season with a shoulder injury.

“I’m sure he was a little frustrated with me at times at the start of the year when I was trying to get back into the swing of things and get adjusted to the speed,,” de Haan said. “But I think we jelled right away and complement each other pretty well.

“He’s good jumping up into the play and I’m fine being the safety. But his defensive game is underrated and you don’t always notice some of the stuff he does. He’s physical. He’s good in the corners and in front of the net. He’s easy to play with.”

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, right, and Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf fight during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong) Kyusung Gong AP

In a recent interview, Faulk was told that some observers have mentioned that he seems leaner, quicker, more determined, more driven to help the team succeed this year in his eighth NHL season.

“Which one?” he said, smiling.

Faulk, 26, said his offseason conditioning routine had been the same, that he might be a couple of pounds lighter at 215 pounds. His body-fat percentage, he said, hasn’t changed.

Is he more determined and driven?

“It has been brutal not to make the playoffs,” he said. “As hockey players you want to see those hard times through and get on the other end of it and reap the rewards of the hard work.”

Faulk, an alternate captain, said having Brind’Amour as the head coach, after the previous four years under Bill Peters, has brought about a “bit of a rejuvenation.”

“Not to say anything bad about Bill but it is different,” Faulk said. “The atmosphere in the room is different. Rod gave everyone a clean slate and said if you put in the work he’s stick with you. I appreciate that. That’s what you want in a head coach.”

After scoring 48 goals in three seasons, with a career-high 17 in 2016-17, Faulk had eight in 76 games last season. His only goal this season came in the ninth game, Oct. 22 at Detroit, and he feels the need to be more productive at even strength and on the power play.

But Faulk has been solid enough in the Canes’ zone. He has often been outstanding killing penalties. He has done his part.

Even dropped the gloves.

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.