Is Justin Faulk the secret to Carolina’s success this season?

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The Carolina Hurricanes came awfully close to making the playoffs last season. While they had great seasons out of Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, one area they had struggles with was on defense. Cam Ward had a busy and great season in goal, but the Carolina blue line left a bit to be desired.

This offseason Carolina signed Tomas Kaberle away from Boston as a free agent but he may not end up being the most impactful season this time around. With training camp over with, rookie Justin Faulk is leaving a huge impression on everyone in Carolina. Coach Paul Maurice is loving the youngster’s play and GM Jim Rutherford is heaping the praise upon the former Minnesota-Duluth standout in a big way.

Chip Alexander of The Raleigh News & Observer gets the big compliments out of Rutherford about their national championship blue liner even saying that he feels Faulk is a top-four defenseman for them.

What has impressed Rutherford the most about Faulk, who’s 19 and was enrolled at Minnesota-Duluth this time last year and set to play college hockey?

“Pretty much everything,” Rutherford said. “To think that he’s 19 years old, and to have the composure he has, and the way he handles the puck and the way he handles different situations, how he moves the puck, how he skates. He knows the game.

“I haven’t seen many flaws in his game to this point. This is great for us. We knew we had a good player in Justin, but as a defenseman we always say it’s going to take longer. But for him to do what he did in the preseason as a 19-year-old is pretty impressive.”

After seeing Faulk up close and personal in Lake Placid at the Team USA World Junior Development Camp, he’s a guy well ahead of the curve age-wise. Offensively he’s highly gifted. He’s a slick puckhandler with a great shot from the point. Offensively and on the power play, Faulk should help Carolina improve there immensely. With Faulk and Kaberle teaming up with Bryan Allen and Tim Gleason, it gives them a healthy balance between offensive and defensive play.

One thing they’ll have to watch with Faulk is his actual defense. He’s such a potentially dynamic player offensively that sometimes he does so at the risk of getting back to protect his own end. Paul Maurice and the Hurricanes veteran defenders will help him work those things out.

At 19 years-old Faulk is going to make a few mistakes, but his upside is tremendous and for Carolina, after seeing Jeff Skinner thrive as an 18 year-old last year they don’t have any fears about having a young guy seize the chance to make a positive addition to the squad. It makes for a heck of a year for Faulk as he was a key member of the Minnesota-Duluth national championship team back in April and now he’ll be starting in the NHL. They sure do grow up fast these days.

Sharks send Habs to their fifth straight loss

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Make that five straight losses for the Montreal Canadiens.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and an assist on Shea Weber‘s power play blast, giving the Habs center a two-point night. That’s one of the few bright spots, as Montreal lost by a score of 5-2 to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

This was a battle of two teams struggling to start the new season, with each sitting on only one victory. For the Habs, that victory was back on Oct. 5 in their season opener against Buffalo.

Since then, however . . .

And it isn’t about to get any easier for the Habs. This was the start of a stretch that includes three games in four nights against the bruising California teams — the Sharks tonight, the Kings tomorrow, and the Ducks on Friday. It could still get worse before it gets better.

For the Sharks, who were led Tuesday by Logan Couture‘s four-point performance and Joe Pavelski‘s first goal of the season, they end their five-game home stand on a positive note after losing three of the previous four games.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Wayne Simmonds leaves Flyers game for ‘precautionary reasons’ with lower-body issue

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The Philadelphia Flyers earned a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, thanks to a four-goal outburst in the second period.

And Philly forward Wayne Simmonds earned a decision over Micheal Haley in a quick fight during that middle frame, too.

While the Flyers got the win, the news wasn’t all good with respect to Simmonds, however, as he was removed from the game for precautionary reasons because of a lower-body issue, the team announced.

Beyond that, the Flyers said they will know more about his status by either tomorrow or Thursday. That puts a bit of a damper on the win.

Not only is the 29-year-old Simmonds one of the toughest players in the league, unafraid to drop the gloves or throw big hits from time to time, but he’s an important part of Philadelphia’s offensive attack, as well. A productive member of the power play, he’s flirted with the 30-goal mark on three occasions while in Philly and reached that mark in each of the past two seasons.

And he’s done that on a contract that includes an annual cap hit of just under $4 million.

Simmonds was also off to a strong start in 2017-18 with five goals and seven points in six games.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Rangers’ losing streak continues with OT defeat vs. Penguins

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The New York Rangers needed a win.

Their slow start is among the surprises early this season, as the Rangers have now lost four in a row with only one win to their record through seven games so far. They’ve had trouble scoring. Mistakes at inopportune moments have been costly.

Facing the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, the Rangers had a brutal start and a brutal finish in a 5-4 overtime loss to their Metropolitan Division foes.

Phil Kessel scored just 43 seconds into the game, utilizing that dangerous wrist shot off the rush to beat Henrik Lundqvist top corner. By the end of one period, it was 2-0 Pittsburgh.

Despite a second-period comeback, with three goals in under three minutes, and taking the lead in the third period, the Rangers couldn’t hang on and the Penguins won in overtime.

Sidney Crosby scored a crafty tying goal with only 56 seconds remaining in regulation, waiting for the Rangers defender to touch the puck negating what would’ve likely been called a hand pass on Pittsburgh before firing a no-look backhander toward the net from behind the red line. The puck deflected in off Lundqvist, helping send this one to overtime.

Evgeni Malkin capped off a four-point night with the overtime winner.

“Right now it’s a little bit challenging as far as putting a whole game together for us,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault following the game. “But this group is very accountable … and I’m very confident that if we keep doing a lot of the things we’re doing right now, we’re going to be on the right track.”

A trio of Rangers recorded their first goals of the season. That included David Desharnais, Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich, although the latter played less than 10 minutes on Tuesday, despite nearly four minutes in power play time, and of course the goal.

The Rangers host the New York Islanders on Thursday. Another loss, and one has to wonder how hot the seat may be getting under Vigneault.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Kucherov joins elite company with hot start, but Devils defeat Bolts

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The Nikita Kucherov Show continues.

The Tampa Bay Lightning star forward maintained his torrid pace Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils, scoring his eighth goal of the season — in just his seventh game.

The Bolts took the lead in the second period on goals from Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, but couldn’t hang on and ultimately lost to the Devils (how about this start for New Jersey?) by a score of 5-4 in the shootout.

There is no denying, however, that this has been a special start for the 24-year-old Kucherov and he has joined elite company as a result.

That’s a perfect shot on Cory Schneider.

Read more: Kucherov’s star continues to rise

Kucherov also added an assist on Vladislav Namestnikov‘s beautiful first-period goal. The Devils, though, completed the comeback to continue their strong start to the season, both in wins and goals for. They entered Tuesday’s contest among the league leaders in scoring and surged out to an early lead following a wild five-goal first period.

Drew Stafford opened the scoring for New Jersey and then tied it late in the third period. Kyle Palmieri scored the winner in the shootout.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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