Coming off a white-hot November, there was little the Buffalo Sabres could do to ruin their own momentum.
Unfortunately, with December in the books, we now know that the Sabres did everything in their power to do just that.
In December, Buffalo failed to re-create any magic from their incredible November run.
A 13 game swing that could have further propelled the Sabres into a playoff position turned into a mediocre 4-6-3 record.
Buffalo began the month of December with a nine-point lead over the first team out. Heading into January, that lead has fallen to two points.
The sky has not yet fallen on the season for the Sabres but after a month of mental mistakes, lack of secondary scoring and injuries – people have begun to take shelter.
December was led by the usual suspects, which is never an issue.
Jack Eichel led the way with 10 goals and 17 points in 13 games, after only scoring one goal in 15 November games.
Jeff Skinner also kept up his scoring ways, with six goals in 13 games.
The issue here continues to be the aforementioned problem with secondary scoring.
Out of the 30 goals scored in the month of December, only three players scored more than one goal – Johan Larsson had three goals, Rasmus Dahlin had two goals and Sam Reinhart had two goals.
Otherwise, seven players scored a single goal.
December also brought more injuries to the table, which is scary considering the lack of depth this team has at the NHL level.
Zemgus Girgensons suffered an upper-body injury and appears to be week-to-week. Girgensons has begun to show his worth as a bottom-six role player and was most certainly seeing success in that role to this point.
Buffalo will have some trouble filling his role, at least until Scott Wilson returns from injury.
The biggest injury and unknown heading into January is the status of Jack Eichel.
Eichel missed the last practice of 2018 with what was termed as a “maintenance day”. That maintenance day developed into Eichel being a game-time decision for the year’s final game against the New York Islanders.
Eichel would participate in a morning skate and subsequently dress for the game but after only four shifts, he left the game with an upper-body injury.
While Phil Housley did not suspect Eichel would miss a chunk of time, the news is dire. Buffalo has struggled to do anything offensively with consistency outside of their top line.
If Eichel misses any amount of time, Buffalo’s playoff hopes could easily go up-in-smoke.
To add insult to injury, two of the six losses this month had former friends taking care of business for their new teams.
Ryan O’Reilly scored for the Blues in his first meeting against the Sabres this past month and Robin Lehner closed out 2018 with a 39 save performance, which included Lehner recording an assist.
The Sabres head into the New Year looking to right the ship and get back to more consistent ways.
Buffalo plays 10 times in the month of January, including a west coast Canada trip before their CBA-mandated week off. With seven games on the road this month, the Sabres also need to work on their consistency when playing on the road.
Through 20 road matchups, Buffalo has a very mediocre 9-8-3 record. That will not help them in their run towards a potential playoff berth, if it does continue.
With other Eastern Conference teams finding their ways in the playoff race, the month of January turns up the pressure to 11.