Brent Burns Image by: Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images
Forget about a New Year’s hangover. These five NHL players have been brilliant since the back half of the 2017-18 schedule began.
In the weeks leading up to the New Year, New York Islanders winger Anders Lee was one of the league’s most unstoppable goal-scorers, and by the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, Lee had gone from far outside Rocket Richard Trophy contention to an unexpected candidate for the award. That was in large part thanks to a remarkable stretch from Nov. 15 to the end of 2017 during which Lee popped home 15 goals in 21 games to bring him into a tie with Alex Ovechkin and Nikita Kucherov for top spot in the goal-scoring race.
And while Lee continues to look like a threat in the Rocket race, the reality is he has fallen off the pace over the past five weeks. Truthfully, his production has been night and day. After scoring his aforementioned 15 goals across a six-week span to end the previous calendar year, Lee has started 2018 by notching just three goals in his past 15 games, including a current six-game goal drought.
Lee isn't the only notable early-season scorer who has come crashing down to earth over the past few weeks. Buffalo Sabres trade chip Evander Kane has gone from a near point-per-game player to mustering just two points in his past 15 outings. Similarly, Patrick Marleau has hit a slump with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Likewise, some who were already off to bad starts have seen their struggles continue, such as the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson, who have combined for three points since Jan. 1.
The New Year hasn't been unkind to everyone, however. In fact, if the New Year's resolution for these five players was to dominate the competition, they're well on their way to achieving their goal:
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
If we wanted to, we could fill this entire list with Penguins players. After a slow start to their season, Pittsburgh has come alive since the start of the new year. In fact, only the Bruins have more points than the Penguins since Jan. 1. And just as Boston has been powered by their top stars, Pittsburgh has been riding incredible performances by their big names to a surge up the standings. Sidney Crosby, for instance, has been on a tear with three goals and 25 points in his past 15 games, while Phil Kessel has been equally impressive with eight goals and 23 points over the same span. As hard as it may be to fathom, however, Malkin has been even better.
In the 15 games Pittsburgh has played since the first day of 2018, Malkin is not only scoring nearly two points per game, he has scored more than a goal per game with 16 tallies since Jan. 1. What's equally impressive is that his 27 points in 15 games has seen him almost double his point total. Malkin had 13 goals and 35 points in his first 35 games of the season.
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
The Bruins, as a whole, are on fire right now, having only lost one game in regulation since Dec. 16., and as mentioned above, Boston's star-studded top line is to thank for the dominance. Brad Marchand was leading the way for a short while before a five-game suspension derailed his run of six goals and 18 points in nine games, while David Pastrnak helped bring some additional offense in the form of five goals and 16 points across his past 14 games. But the brightest star in Boston, and arguably the player having the most underrated season, has been Bergeron.
Not only is Bergeron the glue that holds the top line together with his defensive acumen, he is having himself one of the best offensive campaigns of his career. Through the 2017 portion of the schedule, Bergeron had already accumulated 11 goals and 24 points in 35 games, but he has more than doubled his goal total and is only a few points shy of doubling his point total across his past 15 outings. Now with 22 goals and 44 points on the season, Bergeron is on pace to have the best offensive year of his career. If he keeps it up, he's on pace for 39 goals and 75 points.
It should also be noted that Bergeron remains one of the frontrunners for the Selke Trophy. If he claims the award this season, he would set the NHL record as a five-time winner.
Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars
When Radulov inked a five-year, $31.25-million deal with the Stars, there were some concerns the Dallas had overpaid given the winger was coming off of a solid, though not exactly outright dominant, 18-goal, 54-point season with the Montreal Canadiens in 2016-17. Radulov was quick to silence his doubters with a solid first half of the season in which he piled up 14 goals and 31 points in 39 games. That was enough to put him fourth in scoring on the Stars, but he's taken his game to another level to start the second half.
After being held off the scoresheet in his first game of the new year, Radulov proceeded to go on a nine-game point streak, during which time he had three three-point outings and racked up a total of six goals and 16 points. Once the streak ended, he took a brief break from torturing opponents, but he's started another streak, picking up one goal and three points in his past two games. Thanks to his recent uptick in production, Radulov has already surpassed his goal output from last season and is a mere three points back of also eclipsing last season's point total. Better yet, though, if Radulov can continue to score at this rate, he's going to look like one of the summer’s great signings as he’ll end the season with 32 goals and 78 points. Both would be career highs, pushing him well clear of previous bests he set exactly a decade ago.
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
What at first looked as though it might be a season of significant regression for Burns after a dazzling 29-goal, 76-point campaign in 2016-17 has instead become another brilliant performance from the San Jose Sharks’ bearded blueliner. It's no surprise Burns has had a big start to the new year, though, because he has gotten progressively hotter as the season has worn on. After registering a mere 11 points in his first 23 games, Burns found his game in December, posting five goals and 14 points in 13 outings. He has continued to be offensively dominant in the new year, too.
Matter of fact, Burns found the scoresheet in each of his first five games of 2018. He didn't just put up a string of one-point games, though. No, Burns went off, scoring one goal and eight points before his five-game point streak ended. One streak ending sparked another, however, and after a one-game absence from the points column, Burns proceeded to rip it up with one goal and nine points in his next seven games. He has added another goal and two points since, bringing his overall 2018 point total to 19. That’s good enough to vault Burns, who was 11th in scoring by defensemen at the end of the 2017 portion of the campaign, into second place among rearguards. And at this rate, there is no reason to doubt Burns can catch John Klingberg for top spot.
Carter Hutton, St. Louis Blues
As far as backup goaltenders go, there were few better than Hutton in the first half of the season. The fact of the matter, however, is that Hutton was the clear second-stringer. He started only nine of St. Louis’ first 41 games. But with Jake Allen continuing to struggle, Blues coach Mike Yeo switched gears between the pipes and handed the crease to Hutton days before the calendar turned over and the once-backup hasn't relinquished the role yet. In fact, if he keeps this up, there's no reason to expect Hutton to be relegated back to the No. 2 role anytime soon.
Since the start of the new year, Hutton is one of 19 goalies to have started at least 10 games, and there's no goaltender who has been able to keep pace with him over that span. His record isn't flawless – he is 8-2-1 in 12 games played — but his .940 save percentage and 1.80 goals-against average are both the best marks in the league. In addition, Hutton has two shutouts, making him one of five goaltenders to register a pair of clean sheets since Jan. 1. Thanks to his performance in recent weeks, Hutton is legitimately on the periphery of Vezina contention.
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