Justin Faulk can’t be blamed for the Carolina Hurricanes’ bad loss Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Canes were embarrassed 8-1 by the Leafs at Air Canada Centre, so there was much blame to be shared. Asked why he didn’t lift goaltender Scott Darling during the road game, Canes coach Bill Peters said the beatdown was more about the 18 other players in the lineup than the starting goalie.
But for Faulk, it was another rough game in a season in which the defenseman has had too many, that to this point has been the most challenging of his career.
After scoring 17 goals last season – a Hurricanes’ record for a defenseman and second among NHL D-men – Faulk has one. A year ago, he had seven goals and nine assists in the first 33 games. This year: one goal, six assists.
Faulk, a three-time NHL All-Star, is upfront in rating his play, summing it by saying, “Probably not that great.”
Why the lack of scoring?
“It happens,” Faulk said. “I’ve been through it before, although maybe it wasn’t as noticeable because it wasn’t at the beginning of the year. Two years ago I had 12 goals in the first 35 games and finished with 16. I’ve been in situations somewhat like this before, although maybe not as much overall.”
Faulk has the heaviest shot on the team but is not finding the net, at even strength or on the power play.
It’s not that he’s lost any velocity on the shot, Faulk said. It’s not that teams are playing him any differently this season.
Faulk has 90 shots on goal – only forwards Jeff Skinner (127) and Sebastian Aho (94) have more. But he has had 75 attempts blocked, a team high and 20 more than Skinner.
“You’ve got to keep playing and not necessarily change much,” Faulk said. “Sometimes, you can get in a panic mode if things aren’t going well. You start changing things and start trying to do some things, and that might just get in your head more than it needs to to be.”
Faulk said the responsibility of being a team co-captain with Jordan Staal hasn’t gotten in his head. It’s not that he’s pressing, he said, as if trying to prove he deserves wearing the “C” this season after being an alternate captain last season.
“It’s not a whole lot different,” he said of his role. “We had guys step up last year and talk, and we have to have that again this year. I’m not doing much different. I wasn’t shy last year about standing up and saying what I think we need to do, and I’m definitely not this year, either.”
Peters has done what he can to get Faulk going. He recently used Faulk in a shootout against the Vegas Golden Knights, although that didn’t work. The Canes also have moved Faulk around on the power play, trying to get him in positions more like 2015-16, when he set an NHL record by scoring his first 12 goals on the power play.
“We’ve got to get him off the schneid a little bit,” Peters said. “He’s getting better looks. Hopefully that’s a good sign of things to come.”
But Faulk’s struggles this season haven’t all been about not producing offensively. He has had his problems in the defensive zone, as have others in the Canes’ touted D corps.
Faulk has had various defensive partners, including rookie Haydn Fleury. But the veteran, in his seventh NHL season, has made his own share of costly mistakes, as well.
“If you’re not scoring or you’re not contributing much offensively, you’ve got to make sure you’re not giving anything up,” Peters said.
Faulk said he would look to work his way out of his personal slump, at least offensively, by being more aggressive with the puck. Skate with it a little more, hold on to it a little more.
“That’s generally when I’m at my best, when I’m trying to make a play and make a difference with the puck,” he said.
Faulk can be a difference-maker. The Canes need him to be one.