For the first time in recent years, Sabres fans enter the month of January and aren’t focused on how many points their team is out of a playoff spot. Instead, they see Buffalo in a Wild Card spot.
But for how long?
Just after Thanksgiving, the Sabres found themselves leading the entire NHL with a 17-6-2 record after a thrilling 10-game winning streak.
Chants of “We want 10!” roared through KeyBank Center during a game against the San Jose Sharks, a game in which Buffalo went on to win with Jeff Skinner’s overtime goal.
— Sabres Goal a Day (@SabresGoalADay) November 28, 2018
It was the type of hockey that rejuvenated the team and had fans believing that playoffs in 2019 could finally be a real possibility.
After rattling off those 10 straight wins, however, the Sabres have cooled off considerably. Some of that may have been expected, but with just four victories in the past 15 games, Buffalo is slipping in the standings.
The one-goal games they were winning, the overtimes, the shootouts – they’ve all stopped going their way.
As exciting as that winning streak was, it may not accurately resemble how good this team is overall.
The Sabres have scored 115 goals, but also have allowed 115. They’ve relied heavily on their top line and have received great goaltending from Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark.
# Top Scorers GP Goals Assists Points 9 Jack Eichel 44 16 35 51 53 Jeff Skinner 47 30 14 44 23 Sam Reinhart 47 10 33 43 55 Rasmus Ristolainen 47 5 24 29 26 Rasmus Dahlin 47 5 21 26
Point totals for everyone on the team except the top 5 scorers ??? pic.twitter.com/eDIGA8OBqG
— Zain (@ZainL96) December 31, 2018
The lack of secondary scoring has proved to be a problem already, but may remain one of Buffalo’s biggest issues this season going forward. Players like Conor Sheary (14 points in 36 games) Jason Pominville (18 points in 35 games) to name a few, are simply not contributing enough offensively.
If the top line becomes shut down more frequently, the Sabres don’t have the depth to win on a consistent basis.
The halfway mark of the season is later this week, and the true identity of this Sabres team is still unknown. Is this a team that can get back to winning and finish in a top three division spot? Or is this a team that is going to be fighting for a Wild Cart spot in March and then fizzle out?
Either way, there is a bigger need to start winning, and head coach Phil Housley has to make sure they do just that.
The Sabres have dropped their last three games and have a five-game road trip coming up, which will be interrupted by the All-Star break. Following with that, they’ll be home for seven straight games in February.