Replacing the irreplaceable

If losing four games in a row wasn't bad enough, Hurricanes fans also received news that the team's best defenseman, Justin Faulk, will miss the next 2-4 weeks with an MCL sprain. The Hurricanes have been destroyed by injuries for most of the season, but I have a feeling that Faulk's absence might have the most impact on the team. I know this sounds like an overreaction because Faulk is only 21 and is barely keeping his head above water territorially, but the role Faulk plays is one that's very, very hard to replace and I really don't know if anyone else on the roster can take over for him. 

This isn't quite as serious as the team losing three defensemen like they did for a portion of February, but it's still pretty serious when you look at how much ground Faulk covers compared to the rest of the defense corps. Even with this injury, the Canes still has a legit shot at the Southeast Division title and the playoffs, they will just need the rest of their defense corps to step up in a big way. Find out why after the jump.

If the Hurricanes need someone who can log a lot of minutes then they are in luck, because most of their defense corps has experience doing just that. Joni Pitkanen, Joe Corvo, Jay Harrison and Jamie McBain are all capable of logging 20 minute a night, so replacing Faulk's ice-time isn't going to be that big of an issue. The problem is that not all ice time is created equal and Faulk had easily the toughest role among the entire defense. You might remember the graph I posted last week showing how often each player was matched up against opposing team's first lines where Faulk led everyone by a  long shot. Three games later and not much has changed.

Faulk has spent a higher percentage of his ice-time against opposing team's top lines than anyone else on the defense corps. The only players who have come close are Harrison and Gleason, both of whom were Faulk's partners at one point this season. Based on this graph, the logical thing to do until Faulk returns would be to give his minutes to one of Gleason or Harrison but it won't be that easy because neither have been as good a Faulk this season.

  EV TOI/G Line 1 Line 2 Lines 3/4 ChDiff/60 Chances vs 1st Net Def. ZS
Faulk 17:40 82.1% 7.1% 10.7% 0.55 5 28
Pitkanen 17:50 18.8% 56.3% 25.0% 0.26 1 -8
Corvo 15:47 39.1% 47.8% 13.0% 0.71 -2 -23
Gleason 16:41 47.8% 43.5% 8.7% -0.35 -7 31
Sanguinetti 13:18 0.0% 18.2% 81.8% -0.1 1 -34
Harrison 17:48 48.3% 24.1% 27.6% 0.12 0 -36
McBain 16:18 18.2% 36.4% 45.5% -0.04 1 -18
Jordan 10:40 0.0% 0.0% 100.0% -2.53 -7 -15

EV TOI/G = even strength time on ice per game, Line # = % of games matched up against a certain line, ChDiff/60 = 5v5 scoring chance differential per 60, Chances vs 1st = Chance Differential against first lines, Net. Def. Zone Starts = Number of extra shifts started in the defensive zone

Faulk's minutes have been more difficult than the rest of the defense by a pretty wide margin and despite that, he has been able to do a fantastic job at preventing scoring chances. Considering that over 80% of his ice time has come against other team's first lines, it's very impressive that he has been able to keep his head above water. No one else on the defense has been able to do this, which makes replacing Faulk very, very difficult.

Pitkanen has played big minutes but has predominately been used against second lines and given a bit of a zone start push. He isn't a terrible option to replace Faulk but there is going to be a talent rop off. Gleason and Harrison would be the next in line to fill in for Faulk's minutes since they are good enough to play against other team's top lines. There will probably be a bit of a talent drop off, though since Gleason has been less successful than Faulk in similar minutes and Harrison has only broke even against first lines while getting a zone start push.

Same goes for Joe Corvo, who has played well enough to take on the top-sixes of other teams but is still getting protected in terms of where he starts most of his shifts. Then you have Jamie McBain and Bobby Sanguinetti, who have had moderate success against first lines but do not play much minutes against them, which probably cancels them out.

Based on this, the players who are most likely going to pick up the slack for Faulk's absence would be either Gleason, Harrison or Pitkanen. No matter who takes Faulk's place, though, there is going to be a drop off so the next couple of weeks could be a bumpy ride unless one of these players really steps up. All three of them have been able to handle these assignments in the past, so they are capable enough for a tough-minutes role but Faulk has just been so good this season that replacing him will be very difficult.