The Sabres concluded a poor December with a frustrating loss to the New York Islanders on New Year’s Eve that cemented their scoring depth issues and just a 4-6-2 record for the month. It ended a disappointing month after fans saw their team rattle off 10 straight victories earlier.
The Sabres are not the caliber of team that won 10 games in a row, but I do not believe they are as bad as December showed either; in fact, their 6-4-2 record for the month of October may be the perfect middle ground for who they truly are. Their play in October is that of a team pacing for somewhere around 95 points. That sounds about right for this group of players.
With a player the caliber of Jack Eichel, and a partner as strong as Jeff Skinner, it’s a combo that absolutely can push a team to a playoff spot as Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon showed last season.
“Jack Eichel! Oh my, what a play! Coming soon to a theater near you, Sick Mitts: starring Jack Eichel!”
Never change, Rick Jeanneret. #Sabres pic.twitter.com/v69TDLnRIq
— MSG Networks (@MSGNetworks) December 16, 2018
During the winning streak, many people got excited and made comparisons with this roster to the beloved 2005-06 and 06-07 Sabres teams. As fun as that run was, those teams were far deeper and far more complete by comparison.
Instead, this team is probably what we would have seen in 2004-05 had the NHL played that season. Jack Eichel was playing like an MVP war horse before his injury, Sam Reinhart has never looked better, and Rasmus Dahlin continues to dazzle as a rookie. The defense as a whole is far better and productive, and Linus Ullmark is showing the promise to be the No. 1 goalie for the long term.
Linus Ullmark shows why you never give up on a play.#LetsGoBuffalo ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/Vj8LbW2yg9
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) December 17, 2018
The most important pieces you want to lead your team are doing that, which creates a very solid base to work from.
This is not to hide the fact that the Sabres struggle offensively after their main horses, that their special teams could use some improvement, or that they won an unsustainable amount of games in overtime.
But fundamentally, this is a decent to good team that has taken that important first step to potentially becoming great. Players like Tage Thompson, Casey Mittelstadt, and Lawrence Pilut all are having valuable learning years, which they will benefit from possibly as soon as the second half of the season.
Mittelstadt puts the #sabres up 3-1 on a beauty! #njdevils pic.twitter.com/atLMaD7039
— Buffalo Hockey moments (@SabresPlays) January 9, 2019
In no way does GM Jason Botterill want to waste an opportunity at the playoffs, and I believe if things get tough in January, he will make a move to improve the bottom half of the roster without selling the farm.
If the Sabres can keep playing over .500 hockey, they could easily find themselves in the playoffs. Last season, both the New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche had impressive months like Buffalo did in November, while playing a little above a .500 pace the rest of the year.
This Sabres team is better then both of those across the board with a bit more youth. The Sabres are not the Tampa Bay Lightning nor Toronto Maple Leafs yet, but this year’s squad can be a good team that clinches a playoff spot.
That would count as a massive improvement while also knowing the potential exists long-term for that great team very soon.