With 12 games on the schedule for the Buffalo Sabres and with more than half of the season over by the end of the month, how the month of January plays out will determine whether the Sabres are going to be playoff or lottery contenders. Currently, the Sabres are 10 points out of the playoffs and 12 points ahead of the worst team in the league. The bottom five teams in the league have a chance to get the top pick and the Sabres are tied for fifth place with the Florida Panthers. At the end of January, are the Sabres more likely to be talking playoffs or lottery.
The Sabres are playing 12 games in the month of January, the first happening on New Year's Day against the Boston Bruins.
|1/6||@ San Jose|
|1/15||@ NY Islanders|
|1/21||vs. NY Islanders|
|1/23||@ NY Islanders|
On the surface, this month's schedule appears to be balanced. Seven games on the road and five games at home. Three games against the New York Islanders and two games against the Boston Bruins. The Sabres expected winning percentage turns out to be .493 which shows that balanced schedule idea. The Sabres should go 6-5-1 during the month just based on the level of opponent and ultimately finish January with a 21-23-5 record for a total of 47 points.
The Sabres are ten points behind the Montreal Canadiens, the eighth place team in the Eastern Conference, and 12 points behind the Atlanta Thrashers. Buffalo has four games in hand on Atlanta and two games on Montreal. Both teams will play 11 games in the month so Buffalo can gain a game in hand on both teams. Here are the schedules for Atlanta and Montreal:
|1/20||vs. Tampa Bay|
|1/22||vs. NY Rangers|
|1/23||@ Tampa Bay|
|1/11||@ NY Rangers|
|1/15||vs. NY Rangers|
The first thing noticed is that Montreal has the advantage with seven home games versus Atlanta's five. Even with those extra home games, Montreal has the tougher schedule with two games against Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers. Montreal has an expected winning percentage of .464 while Atlanta has an expected winning percentage of .492. That extra .03 gives Atlanta an extra win, 6-4-1 compared to Montreal's 5-5-1. That would give Atlanta a 26-19-7 record compared to Montreal's 26-21-3, a four point advantage with two games in hand.
For teams that are currently out of contention, Carolina and Ottawa, they have a chance to pull closer with an easier January schedule. The Hurricanes are six points out of eighth place with three games in hand while the Senators are seven points out of eighth. Here are their schedules.
|1/1||vs. New Jersey|
|1/5||@ NY Rangers|
|1/15||vs. Tampa Bay|
|1/20||vs. NY Rangers|
|1/26||@ NY Islanders|
|1/8||vs. Tampa Bay|
|1/13||@ NY Islanders|
Carolina will play 14 games in January to use up their three games in hand. That and games against New Jersey, Calgary, and Toronto gives Carolina an better expected winning percentage of .511 which would give them a record of 7-5-2. Ottawa has the luxury of playing Toronto, Calgary, and the Islanders as well and with three less games means they have a slightly better expected winning percentage of .534 for a record of 6-4-1.
The Florida Panthers are currently 10 points out of playoff contention, tied with the Sabres, but with four games in hand and playing 14 games in January, they are poised to move up in the Eastern Conference standings.
|1/2||vs. NY Rangers|
|1/15||vs. New Jersey|
|1/21||vs. Tampa Bay|
|1/23||@ New Jersey|
|1/25||@ NY Rangers|
A six game home stand and games against New Jersey gives Florida the best expected winning percentage out of all of the playoff contenders with a .547. This should make their record 8-5-1 in January and they should move up with 51 points as they end the month.
Here is how the Eastern Conference should shake out at the end of January:
The bottom five teams of the league get the chance at the first pick in the NHL draft through the Draft Lottery. The Sabres currently sit in the fifth worst spot in the league and are twelve points ahead of last place New Jersey. For the sake of brevity, here is how the bottom five is supposed to shake out at the end of the month.
|29||New York Islanders||18-24-7||43|
The Devils have the inside track to the first overall draft pick but good months by Edmonton and Toronto could see Buffalo as low as third in the league by the end of the month.