By LOU KORAC
Justin Faulk was part of the Carolina Hurricanes' Storm Surge for a time.
Justin Faulk was part of the Carolina Hurricanes' Storm Surge for a time.
But that was three years ago when it first came to light.
Now that he's returning where his NHL career began for the first time, Faulk hopes he doesn't have to live it again, at least not in person.
"Yeah, hopefully I don't have to see that surge," Faulk said. "I didn't come up with too many of them myself when I was there. Let's just leave it be for a night hopefully."
The Blues (8-2-2) begin a tough back to back today at 6:30 p.m. (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM) when they face the Hurricanes (10-2-0) before hosting the Edmonton Oilers Sunday night at home.
But for Faulk, returning to the scene of the crime, for the first time, may be a little bit anticlimactic at this point.
The defenseman, selected by the Hurricanes in the second round of the 2010 NHL Draft, spent the first eight years of his career there before being traded to the Blues along with a 2020 fifth-round pick on Sept. 24, 2019 for defenseman Joel Edmundson, prospect Dominik Bokk and a 2020 seventh-round pick.
Faulk is in his third season with the Blues and hasn't returned to Canes Country yet. Tonight will be the first time.
"I haven't played there yet. First one," Faulk said. "It's a couple years late now, so it's probably a little bit easier now than it would have been. The first one was supposed to be right after COVID hit, so we missed that. So it will be the first game back."
Not only is the timing a bit anticlimactic, but the turnover from Carolina's roster lends to one thinking it won't be as emotional as if Faulk were to have returned immediately.
Only nine players currently on Carolina's roster (Sebastian Aho, Jordan Martinook, Martin Necas, Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin) are still part of the team that Faulk left when he was traded.
"There's not too many guys there, maybe six or seven, that are left over from when I was there," Faulk said. "It's definitely a change, it's a different team, play the same style probably with (coach Rod) Brind'Amour there. I don't really know what to think about it too much. I'm sure it will be fun. I'll get to see some people (Friday) night and then after the game Saturday, which is always nice."
Faulk played 559 of his 696 NHL regular-season games in Carolina and should get a nice reception from the host crowd; he shared the captaincy with Staal in 2017-18 after wearing an 'A' the previous two seasons. Being able to see some old friends will finally close the door on that chapter if his career.
"I think it's good. I think it's awesome for 'Faulker' to go back to the team that he was drafted (from), played a long time there," Blues forward David Perron said. "I'm sure he's pretty excited. Obviously for us as a group, we want two points, but we also want to put up a good performance for him. I think coming back home after playing Edmonton, they're basically one of the top teams as well. We know with those guys, they have their firepower so it's a really good test we're looking forward to."
"I like that my buddies that are still there are succeeding," Faulk said. "I always want that to be the case, no matter where they're playing. They're enjoying it, and that's great."
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This will be the first matchup between the teams since March 1, 2019 and should be a good one with two of the top teams in the league going at it.
Carolina is tied atop the league with Edmonton and Florida in wins (10); both teams are in the top five in points percentage with Carolina leading the way at .833 and the Blues at .750; Carolina leads the league in goals-against (23), with the Blues fourth (30); the teams are tied for third in the league in goals-for per game at 3.5; Carolina allows a league low 1.92 goals-per-game, while the Blues are fifth at 2.5; the Blues are second in the league in power plat at 35.7 percent; the Blues are fourth in penalty kill at 88.9 percent, Carolina is sixth at 87.3 percent; and Carolina allows the fourth-fewest shots per game at 28.3.
"Not much has changed," Berube said of Carolina. "They play with a lot of speed, they have a lot of speed, they have a lot of speed on their team, their special teams are good, they're going to make you work for everything. They're going to come at you with a lot of speed. We've got to check well, you've got to manage the puck well and special teams are going to be important for sure. Power play's going to have to work against their penalty kill. It's really good and they have a real good power play. It's going to be a tough challenge."
The challenge of the weekend will be great enough, with the Hurricanes and Oilers a combined 20-5-0, and each team coming off a loss Friday.
Carolina fell 2-1 at home against the Philadelphia Flyers and the Oilers dropped a 3-2 decision at the Buffalo Sabres.
"Yeah, a really big challenge," Berube said. "Just the conversation I've had with the team and players and leadership group is it's a big weekend. I think it's a great challenge for us as a team. Obviously Carolina and Edmonton have been up there all year long, they've played great hockey. You're going against some real good players on both teams. It'll be a tough challenge, but we're looking forward to it."
"Big test for us," Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. "It’ll be a chance for us to see where we’re at against some of the top competition in the league. Teams that have been successful for a long time in the last couple years here. I think we’re excited for the challenge. It’s a tough barn to go into, in Carolina. And then obviously Sunday, we got two of the best players in the world (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl). Good challenge for us. It could be something our group needs right now."
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The Blues feel they're in a good spot at 8-2-2 despite a couple small hiccups in the past seven games after their 5-0-0 start to the season.
There have been a couple injuries, namely to Oskar Sundqvist (knee), who still has yet to make his season debut, and the recent one to Brayden Schenn (upper body), who will miss his fourth straight game, and the COVID-19 protocol bug has been the largest detriment with six players being affected thus far. Only two remain on it with defensemen Torey Krug and Niko Mikkola.
"Overall we're in a good spot, I believe," Berube said. "Like I said, we're always trying to improve and we have to keep getting better at things. We need more consistency out of certain players. I think that'll definitely help for sure, but we're finding ways to get points. We went on a good stretch for a while and now it's a little more of a grind for us right now, and that's just normal. You're going to go through stretches like that throughout the season and you've got to grind through it and get points when you can. But we've got to keep improving and get better and we will continue to do that."
"It’s nice to be banking points," Bortuzzo said. "It’s going to be a competitive season all year right down to the wire I’m sure. So you want to bank points any time you can. It would’ve been nice to get two (Thursday) night, but Vladi (Tarasenko) made us a good play and got us an extra point there.
"Like I said, happy to be banking points. But we’re just looking to continually build our game. I think some games against high-end teams are a good test for us as a group to gauge our intensity and barometer against two of the better teams in the league."
Travel has been a challenge as well, with the Blues playing their eighth road game of the season tonight opposed to five home games.
The Blues sit atop the Central Division with 18 points, tied with the Minnesota Wild and one point ahead of the Winnipeg Jets and Predators.
"We've been traveling a lot, from going to LA, basically three days in a row flying right after the game and coming back, going to sleep at 2 a.m., then flying to Winnipeg, coming back here, normally the first game at home is not the greatest game," Perron said. "I actually don't think we played too bad (Thursday, a 4-3 overtime loss against the Nashville Predators). I'm not saying we played a great game by any means, but we didn't play poor. I thought we had some good looks, some good chances and we got a point, and that's what matters a lot. We can't let our foot off the gas. Like, if you look at the standings, how tight they are. It's going to be like that all year."
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Neither team will hold a morning skate today, with the Blues choosing to practice Friday at home and not going to Carolina's practice rink today due to PNC Arena being occupied this afternoon by North Carolina State's home basketball game against Colgate, and the Hurricanes playing last night.
The Blues' projected lineup:
Jordan Kyrou-Ryan O'Reilly-Pavel Buchnevich
Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko
Brandon Saad-Tyler Bozak-David Perron
Klim Kostin-Dakota Joshua-James Neal
Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko
Calle Rosen-Justin Faulk
Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo
Joel Hofer will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Ville Husso and Kyle Clifford, who both skated Friday but aren't ready to play yet after coming off the COVID protocol list. Oskar Sundqvist (knee) and Brayden Schenn (upper body) are out. Torey Krug and Niko Mikkola are in COVID-19 protocol.
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The Hurricanes' projected lineup:
Andrei Svechnikov-Sebastian Aho-Seth Jarvis
Jesperi Kotkaniemi-Vincent Trocheck-Teuvo Teravainen
Steven Lorentz-Jordan Staal-Jesper Fast
Jordan Martinook-Derek Stepan-Josh Leivo
Jaccob Slavin-Ethan Bear
Brady Skjei-Tony DeAngelo
Brendan Smith-Ian Cole
Alex Lyon could start in goal; Frederik Andersen, who started Friday, would be the backup.
The Hurricanes report no healthy scratches. Nino Niederreiter (upper body), Martin Necas (illness), Brett Pesce (upper body) and Antti Raanta (concussion) are out.