Justin Faulk is quickly developing one of the most feared and respected shots in the NHL – hard, heavy, accurate.
The Carolina Hurricanes defenseman has eight goals, all on power plays. Through Monday’s games, he was tied for the league lead with Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks for goals by a defenseman, and led all NHL skaters in power-play goals.
When Faulk steps into a shot, it’s as if goalies cringe in the crease. Some opposing players are willing to step in front of it and block it, and some shy away.
“When he shoots it he’s dangerous,” Canes forward Kris Versteeg said. “He just shoots it so hard and he’s a smart player. ”
Faulk had 15 goals last season, showing the ability to get his shot through traffic and beat goalies, but has been even better this season. He had two power-play scores Sunday in a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings, making him the second player in franchise history to score eight power-play goals in the first 20 games of a season.
The other: Ron Francis, the Canes’ general manager and a Hall of Fame player.
Faulk, in explaining the sizzling start, said simply, “I just try to shoot and get pucks on net. If it goes in, it goes in. Just trying to do the same thing every time.”
I just try to shoot and get pucks on net. If it goes in, it goes in.
Canes defenseman Justin Faulk
There’s a little more to it than that, former NHL forward Scott Bjugstad said.
Bjugstad, who once scored 43 goals in a season for the Minnesota North Stars, runs the Scott Bjugstad Shooting School in Lake Elmo, Minn. He first worked with Faulk about 10 years ago, then had him back at his school last year before Faulk left for the Canes’ preseason training camp.
“He showed me easier ways to put the puck where you want it to go,” Faulk said.
But Bjugstad said it wasn’t so much technique work or getting the puck properly placed on the blade, as making sure Faulk had the proper stick.
“He hadn’t changed his stick since high school,” Bjugstad said this week. “But his strength was different. He needed a stronger shaft. Everything was going to the right.”
Bjugstad said Faulk was using an 85 flex stick and they discussed him going to a 95 flex.
“I knew he could shoot well but that something was wrong with his stick and he needed a stiffer shaft,” said Bjugstad, a former U.S. Olympian. “He’s got unbelievable instincts. He’s very good in finding space to get off his shot and he can really shoot the puck. He has a great one-timer.”
Faulk, 23, had eight goals in 66 games for the Canes in 2011-12, his rookie NHL season, then five goals in each of the next two seasons. But it all came together last season when he set career highs in goals, assists (34) assists and points (49).
Faulk, a member of the 2014 U.S. Olympic team, represented the Hurricanes in the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend in Columbus, Ohio, participating in the hardest shot competition and registering a best shot of 95 mph. Defenseman Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators won with a best shot of 108.5 mph.
Faulk appears to have improved both accuracy and velocity this season, and is drawing comparisons to Weber. He has converted 11 percent of his 73 shots after shooting 6.3 percent last season.
Faulk had two shots on net and four attempts blocked Monday as the Canes lost 3-2 in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers. He picked up an assist on a goal by Victor Rask – Faulk is the Canes’ leading scorer with 16 points – as Carolina rallied to tie the score 2-2 in the third.
The Canes (7-10-4) host the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday before the break for Thanksgiving – for many GMs an unofficial demarcation line in determining which teams should have staying power and be playoff contenders.
Bjugstad recalled seeing Faulk play as a freshman at Minnesota-Duluth in the 2010-11 season when the Bulldogs faced Minnesota, Bjugstad’s alma mater.
“I remember sitting there saying, ‘Don’t let that kid shoot!’ ” Bjugstad said.
It’s safe to say NHL teams, including the Oilers, have that on their scouting reports for the Canes.
Gerbe sidelined: Forward Nathan Gerbe will be sidelined an estimated four to six weeks with a lower-body injury, general manager Ron Francis said Tuesday.
Gerbe has been placed on injured reserve, retroactive to Nov. 22.
Gerbe was injured in the first period of Carolina’s 4-3 win Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings at PNC Arena. He was hit by the Kings’ Kyle Clifford, who was not penalized on the play.
Gerbe has a goal and two assists in 20 games this season.