When the clock strikes midnight tonight, we officially close the book on the year 2018.
Asking some, the year has been their personal best-year-ever and for others, the same can understandably be the opposite.
For the Buffalo Sabres, this year has been a roller coaster of bad hockey bookended by much improved hockey.
Buffalo finished off the first half of 2018 with a record of 15-25-4.
Safe to say, they improved on the second half.
Buffalo closed out the 2018 calendar with an overall record of 36-38-10.
Buffalo’s turn into 2019 has many fans ready for their continued successes, despite sputtering toward the year’s end after a hot start to the season.
With 48 points in their final 40 games of the year, it is hard to look ahead and not have some level of optimism.
Whenever a New Year rolls around, many people among us use the fresh calendar to set themselves New Year’s Resolutions.
The Buffalo Sabres should be no different.
We have compiled a few of the top resolutions for the 2019 calendar year.
Re-sign Jeff Skinner
This top resolution should come as no surprise.
In what has been arguably the move of the offseason, Jeff Skinner has turned a golden opportunity into a blank check that should include a good amount of zeroes.
Coming into the 2018-19 season, Jeff Skinner’s career-high sits at 37 goals scored in 79 games played.
Through 40 games, Skinner has 26 goals in 40 games.
The current pace has Skinner at 53 goals but even with a likely regression, Skinner should sail past his current career-high.
Talks have reportedly been quiet between Skinner and the Sabres but that is to be suspected, with a season in full swing.
Another reason for quiet on the contract front – Buffalo is unable to offer Skinner an eight-year deal until after the trade deadline in February because he was acquired during the last offseason.
The CBA always wrinkles things up.
After seeing how well Jeff Skinner has played with Jack Eichel and vice versa, it remains hard to believe that Buffalo will not pay Jeff Skinner what he wants (within reason) to stay a member of the Buffalo Sabres for the next eight seasons.
Resolve the Secondary Scoring Issue
When you look at the Sabres stats sheet, you see Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart. Those three have combined for 49 goals this season.
That is a nice statistic but when you consider that the Sabres have only scored 112 goals, the panic might start to set in.
Jason Pominville has scored nine goals this season, one more than Reinhart, but has been all but invisible when not playing with Eichel and Skinner.
For the record, Pominville has scored one goal since November 17, 2018.
The goal scoring issue does not appear to be a lack of talent for some, just a lack of shooting the puck due to an inability to push positive offensive pressure.
Casey Mittelstadt has five goals on 57 shots – good for a 8.8 shooting percentage.
Tage Thompson has four goals on 54 shots – good for a 7.4 shooting percentage.
Those two are important pieces to the puzzle but still appear to be finding their way in the lineup.
This is made evident by their respective 45.9% and 45.8% Corsi For. Both players are struggling to push possession when on the ice.
Players like Remi Elie are the frustrating ones.
Elie, in 12 games, has yet to record a shot on goal.
While his opportunities have come few and far between, it does not seem that Elie is capable of getting shots-on-net because he normally is pinned in his own zone (40.1% Corsi For) when on the ice.
Same goes for Vladimir Sobotka – three goals on 42 shots (7.1% shooting) but when on the ice, Sobotka has a 43.3% Corsi For. Unless he starts taking shots from his own offensive zone, those numbers are unlikely to increase with any sort of urgency.
Make the Playoffs
As we have learned through the first 40 games, this one is clearly easier said than done.
Buffalo has a loose grip on the third spot in the Atlantic, with Montreal a point back (47) and Boston two points back (46) but with the Winter Classic to-be-played on New Year’s Day.
The Sabres were in auto-pilot through December, to the tune of a 4-6-3 record. Not good enough, even following their unbelievable run throughout November.
Buffalo could finish the season with 42 points in their next 42 games and end up with 90 points but that might not be enough with the usual suspects beginning their mid-season surge.
With a playoff-less drought continually lingering, it must be mentioned that the Buffalo Sabres last played a playoff game on April 26, 2011. Rasmus Dahlin turned 11 years old just 13 days before that.
The next 42 games will be a stretch of do-or-die games, which should at least make for great hockey to watch.
It is up to the Buffalo Sabres whether or not they’ll break the streak in 2019.