The Hurricanes are last in the league after a dozen games this campaign, and any hope of a quick turnaround may have gone out the window with top defenseman Justin Faulk sidelined with an upper-body injury.
There are few players on the Hurricanes roster one can point to and pick as the piece that helps Carolina tick, but Justin Faulk stands out as the heart and soul of a team that’s still looking to take some significant steps forward. Problem is, the Hurricanes are going to be without the 24-year-old rearguard for at least a week, and maybe more.
Faulk was forced to leave Sunday’s game against the New Jersey Devils after throwing a hit on the Taylor Hall, and it was immediately clear something was ailing the Hurricanes blueliner. As soon as he threw the hit, he came up off the ice barely moving his right arm and hung the arm at his side for the remainder of his shift, leaving the bench for the dressing room the moment he exited the ice.
And Tuesday, Hurricanes coach Bill Peters delivered the bad news that Faulk will be out “week-to-week,” according to The News & Observer’s Chip Alexander, and there’s no real target date for Carolina’s No. 1 blueliner to return to action.
As far as losses go for Carolina, this is about as bad as it gets. Losing Jordan Staal or Jeff Skinner would be unfortunate, to be sure, but at least the Hurricanes have built up a decent stock of young, talented forwards who can fill in and attempt to produce in the absence of the club’s top forwards. But Faulk? He’s not quite as easy to replace.
Through 11 games this season, Faulk is averaging a full two minutes more of ice time per game than any other blueliner and he’s the no-brainer choice as the top defenseman on the team. Making matters worse is that the back end gets significantly thinner as you move down the depth chart.
Jaccob Slavin’s remarkable development arguably makes him the best No. 2 option available, and a good one at that, but Noah Hanifin is still finding his game, Ron Hainsey shouldn’t be a top-pairing guy at this stage of his career and Brett Pesce, Ryan Murphy, Jakub Nakladal and Klas Dahlbeck round out the blueline. While Pesce’s proven that he can take bigger minutes, the same can’t be said for the latter trio, who are led by Nakladal at an average of 14:30 per game.
Making matters worse is that losing Faulk will likely shine an even bigger spotlight on the continued issues in goal for the Hurricanes. For at least the past two seasons, it has been expected that Carolina would have a breakout year after continuing to be a strong possession team with little to show for it. However, goaltending has held the Hurricanes back.
Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the only team who has had a worse 5-on-5 save percentage is the Edmonton Oilers, and that’s by a mere thousandth of a percentage point. This season, the only team who has fared worse is the Philadelphia Flyers, and of the 49 goaltenders to play at least 100 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Cam Ward and Eddie Lack rank 31st and 49th in SP, respectively.
Losing Faulk means whatever sound defense the duo may have been receiving with the two-time all-star on the ice is now gone, and there’s no knowing yet when it will return. If it’s not soon, though, the already basement-dwelling Hurricanes could be found for yet another year of strong underlying numbers with incredibly disappointing results.
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