It’s the end of the calendar year and the Florida Panthers are leading the Atlantic Division after piling up seven consecutive victories. To put that in perspective, the Panthers were in sixth place and just two points ahead of Buffalo on December 1st. An 11-3 run in December has propelled them to the top of the division.
Not many may have seen the Panthers where they are at this time of the year, and while there is another 40-plus games to play, they have their eyes set on postseason hockey for the first time in four years. It would be just the second time in the last 15 seasons that Florida made the playoffs.
Most of you are probably not here to read about the Florida Panthers and their stunning month of December. The team you’re here to read about is 15-17-4, sitting in seventh place in the division and 27th in the league. However, the Sabres are only eight points behind Ottawa for the final playoff spot and 12 behind Florida for first place in the Atlantic division.
It’s early to start talking playoffs, but this next stretch of games for Buffalo is going to be crucial. By the end of January, general manager Tim Murray is going to have a better idea of what he expects to do for the trade deadline. This team may not be showing it in the standings, but the Sabres are a better team than last year and all it takes is a string of wins.
It’s not going to be easy, or expected, but if Buffalo were to go 10-2-2 or something similar over the next 14 games, they’d be right in the mix atop the division. They may not be considered a playoff team, but after all of the rebuilding years, it’s proof they’re going in the right direction.
Dan Bylsma may never have set lines, but the players have had some time to adjust and adapt to their new environment. It’s easy to forget that starting goaltender Robin Lehner is returning soon as well.
“How he’s going to be going down repeatedly; it’s going to happen, and to have it happen and respond and get confidence in being on his feet and doing it over and over again is part of the process for him.” – Dan Bylsma
The Sabres need to look to what the Panthers have done this month. All it takes is for a couple of players to step up and get some confidence going. Of course, ending this 0-for-17 slump on the power play wouldn’t hurt either.
From now through the end of January, the Sabres will face some very tough opponents, including the Capitals twice, Chicago, the Rangers and the aforementioned Florida Panthers. Buffalo will also make a brief west coast trip.
The Sabres only need a couple of pieces to start becoming a good team. Many of us are waiting for the offense to start clicking, and that may happen sooner as we get into the second half of the season.
If there is another sub-par performance in January, then Murray can get ready to make a few deals at the deadline.
Where to see this team going in the second half of the season and if you don’t think they’re capable of making the playoffs, what do you think they need to do at the deadline?