In the past week, Justin Faulk has witnessed the Great Raleigh Fire, played some very good hockey and on Monday celebrated his 25th birthday in South Florida.
The Carolina Hurricanes defenseman is anything but old, even if he may seem like an elder on a blue line with younger 20-somethings. And he’s giving the Canes the kind of seasoned play befitting someone who has been named an NHL All-Star the past three seasons.
Since the trade of veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 23, Faulk had been taking on more minutes, more responsibility. In those 14 games, often paired with Jaccob Slavin defensively, he has a plus-7 rating.
“I think it’s just a little bit of everything,” Faulk said. “I’m skating a little more, skating a little better. I’m using my legs to defend plays, then jumping into the rush and able to generate some offense and make stuff happen a little more. I think I’m doing that better than I was.”
Faulk, whose heavy shot is feared in the NHL, had two goals last week in the Canes’ 8-4 road win against the New York Islanders. Slavin did him one better, scoring his first career hat trick, the first by a Canes defenseman since Joe Corvo in 2008.
Five goals in a game by two D-men? That’s making “stuff” happen.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” Faulk said, smiling.
Faulk, a native of South St. Paul, Minn., had another solid game Thursday as the Canes topped the Minnesota Wild 3-1 at PNC Arena. That was personally satisfying, but he then was in for a shock after the game. Driving back to his condo near Glenwood South, he saw the massive fire that erupted Thursday night in a half-completed apartment building.
Faulk at first feared his building might be on fire. Or if not, heavily damaged. That wasn’t the case, and he was relieved to learn there were no serious injuries from the blaze.
Faulk’s game Saturday in a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators at PNC Arena included five hits, three blocked shots and two takeaways in 24:25 of ice time.
“That might be the best game I’ve seen him play,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “The little plays ‘Faulker’ made throughout the game were fantastic. With or without the puck, I thought he was in control and arguably the best player in the game.”
Peters doesn’t often throw out the word “fantastic.” But Faulk, one of the Canes’ four alternate captains this season, has been that effective and versatile, adding in more shorthanded minutes on the penalty kill with Hainsey gone.
“He’s just becoming a solid two-way contributor and playing big minutes without a dropoff,” Peters said. “Sometimes, when guys’ minutes get up a little bit it compromises their game and I haven’t seen that with him.”
Faulk played 23 minutes in the Canes 4-3 overtime loss Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers. Peters said the Canes were “running on fumes” in the second game of a back-to-back, allowing a goal to the Flyers’ Travis Konecny late in regulation that tied the score and then losing on Brayden Schenn’s goal early in OT.
Faulk had some injuries in November and December that sidelined him a few games. But he earned the All-Star nod and starred for the winning Metropolitan Division team in the three-on-three tournament in Los Angeles, contributing a goal and four assists.
The Canes face the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, and with the season in its final stretch Faulk appears to be hitting his stride.
“Whether it’s a mix of feeling healthy and strong out there or just playing my game, I’m feeling good and I’m definitely playing better,’ he said.
CAROLINA HURRICANES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday.
Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla.