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Burns heating up after slow start – and a few others are catching fire, too

After failing to score in the first quarter of the campaign, Brent Burns has gone on an offensive tear. A few other slow starters are starting to make their mark, too.

At the quarter-mark of the NHL campaign, we used this space to talk a bit about the curious case of Brent Burns. More specifically, how there hadn’t been a skater who had been more unlucky than Burns.

Only months removed from a campaign in which he had scored 29 goals and 76 points, Burns had gone the entire first quarter of the campaign without finding twine once, this despite the fact the fuzzy-faced blueliner had put more rubber on goal than any other rearguard in the league. He was shooting at a rate of more than four shots per game, was frequently earning himself scoring opportunities, but couldn’t get rewarded. Even still, with all that in mind, we suggested that based purely off of what Burns has shown us he’s capable of and the volume with which he had been firing another 20-goal season from the Sharks defenseman wasn’t entirely out of the question.

As luck would have it, two days after we explored Burns’ brutal drought, he snapped the streak. His first goal of the campaign came in his 21st game of the season, a seeing-eye shot from the blueline against the Vegas Golden Knights. And what has come since is the equivalent of Burns putting dynamite in the dam and blowing the darn thing to smithereens. After putting up just eight points in the first quarter of the campaign, a total which ranked behind 50 other rearguards, Burns has been the hottest defenseman to start the second quarter of the campaign.

In 12 games, starting with the contest against the Golden Knights, Burns has fired home six goals, tied for 15th among all skaters, and registered 14 points, which is more than all but 11 players and is tops among defensemen. Burns’ scoring has also turned what was once a campaign in which he was on pace for zero goals and 33 points into one where he’s staring down a 15-goal, 56-point season. And you can rest assured that his points pace is only going to increase given he’s absolutely on fire, scoring five goals and 10 points in his past six games.

Burns isn’t the only player whose performance has been much improved after a lackluster first quarter, however. Here are five others who are quickly erasing all memory of their slow start:

Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

All right, fine, including both Sedins makes this is a six-player list. But Henrik and Daniel have had impressive performances after a start to the season that had some thinking the twins were almost certain to be done once 2017-18 was over.

When the first 20 games were in the books for the Canucks, Henrik had only managed two goals and seven points while averaging slightly more than 14 minutes of ice time per night, while Daniel wasn’t much better, positing three goals and eight points with identical ice time. Combined, the twins had fewer points than each of Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi and Brock Boeser. However, with injuries taking out all three players — though Boeser only missed part of one game — the Sedins have stepped up big-time and it’s showing in their offensive numbers.

Over his past 15 games, Henrik has seen his ice time climb by more than two minutes per game and has piled up 18 assists. Meanwhile, Daniel has been a point-per-game player with four goals and 15 points of his own with an average ice time of nearly 16 minutes. The twins are now on pace to combine for 110 points, and another pair of 50-plus point seasons is a sure sign the Sedins have more to give.

Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames

The beginning of Bennett’s season was so poor statistically that there were serious rumors that the Flames could choose to cut bait on the center, whom they selected fourth overall in 2014, in an attempt to get something back for a player whose value was quickly declining. The trade speculation actually made some sense, too, given the 21-year-old had one goal and three points in 20 games. 

How quickly things can change. Though Bennett remained in his slump until the 24th game of the season, he has broken out over the past three-plus weeks with four goals and 12 points in his past 12 games. The point-per-game run has included three multi-point games, including a one-goal, four-point outing against the Canucks. One of the things that has helped spark Bennett is a move to the wing alongside AHL call-up Mark Jankowski, as the two have found chemistry playing bottom-six minutes for the Flames. 

No matter what the reason, though, it appears first-quarter Sam Bennett has fallen by the wayside and given way to a new Sam Bennett. He’s on pace for 35 points, and while that might not yet be the top-six level contribution Flames fans were expecting, it would see him come close to matching his previous career-best.

Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens

There are those who believe Galchenyuk has had a tough time getting a fair shake in Montreal, and there’s some merit to that. A gifted offensive player, Galchenyuk has often found himself playing middle-six minutes on the wing when he could rightly be playing alongside the Canadiens’ top talents to produce some big numbers. This has especially been a sticking point as Galchenyuk’s ice time has slide over the past three campaigns.

This season, though, sticking Galchenyuk down the lineup could have been warranted. Simply put, he wasn’t producing. In his first 20 games, Galchenyuk had only four goals and eight points and coach Claude Julien wasn’t about to stick an underperforming player in his top-six. That said, Julien might be thinking about doing so now, what with Galchenyuk outscoring everyone on the Canadiens roster since the quarter-point of the campaign.

Though he was mired in a three-game scoring slump to start the second quarter, Galchenyuk has since picked up four goals and 11 points in just 14:42 of ice time per game. The next-best point producer has been Phillip Danault, who has 10 points, but it should be noted he’s averaging 17 minutes per game. At this current rate, Galchenyuk has upped his points pace from 32 to 46 and is in line to score 20 goals.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

In all likelihood, Rask would admit that his start to the season was dreadful. Across the Bruins’ first 20 games, the veteran netminder took the crease 12 times and underperformed nearly every time out. Only three times did he manage a save percentage of at least .920 and he allowed fewer than two goals against just once. The result was a goaltending controversy of sorts, as Anton Khudobin got the call in four straight games and five of seven for the Bruins.

But Boston went back to Rask in late November, giving him a chance to break out of his slump against the Edmonton Oilers. And while the Bruins lost that outing, Rask actually played quite well, stopped 32 of 35 shots. He got the call again days later, picked up his fourth win of the campaign and he hasn’t looked back since. In fact, from Nov. 26 onward, Rask ranks fifth with a .934 SP among goaltenders to play at least five games. He’s also managed a shutout and excellent 1.76 goals-against average across nine contests.

So, if there was any lingering controversy in Boston, Rask has all but stomped it out with his play over the past three weeks.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets

Dubois didn’t necessarily stand out as a player struggling all that mightily through the first quarter of the campaign for the simple reason that he’s a rookie. Some tough times are to be expected when you’re getting your feet wet in the NHL. The fact of the matter, though, is that Dubois was drafted one spot behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, and when that’s who you’re being compared to, a two-goal, four-point performance across your first quarter-season in the big leagues isn’t going to blow anyone’s hair back. After all, in their rookie seasons, the 1-2 draft duo had a combined 22 goals and 37 points through the first quarter of 2016-17.

But when Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella threw together a line combination that saw Dubois centering Artemi Panarin and Josh Anderson, the 19-year-old found a spark. He kicked off the second quarter of his campaign with a goal, and over the past 15 games, Dubois has put up five goals and 11 points while skating top-six minutes with his new linemates. And while he’s not really in the running for the Calder — or at least not at the moment — Dubois has quickly shot up the scoring list. Tied for 33rd in freshman scoring at the quarter mark, he’s leapt all the way into a tie for 16th.

If Dubois keeps scoring as he has in this second quarter, he could end the campaign with somewhere in the 50-point range. It might not match the seasons of Matthews or Laine, but given the way Dubois’ season started, it would make for a fantastic finish.

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