A month ago, entering December, the Buffalo Sabres were tied for first place overall in the NHL. Now, the Sabres have moved down considerably in the standings but remain (somewhat precariously) in the playoff hunt in a wild card spot - a spot they could easily lose if they don’t get their act together.
After facing a busy month of December, the Sabres have only 10 games in the month of January, thanks to the All-Star break. But it won’t be an easy month, and the Sabres will have to find ways to win on the road. Seven of their 10 games this month will be away from KeyBank Center, including a five-game road trip to finish out the month (inclusive of the All-Star break).
The good news, perhaps, is that the Sabres face only two sets of back-to-back games this month. But where there’s good news, there’s also bad news. The first set: an away game in Carolina, followed by a puck drop at home against Tampa Bay less than 24 hours later. The second set of back-to-backs this month: a road game in Columbus, following by a road game in Dallas the next night. Oof.
The Sabres kick off the month of January on Thursday night as they host the Florida Panthers. It’s a crucial division game that has real meaning in the hunt for the playoffs. The Panthers are currently sitting outside the playoff picture, but they’re only eight points back and could make a push for it.
Buffalo then travels to face the Bruins on Saturday, looking for revenge after last week’s 3-2 overtime loss on home ice. It’ll be the final meeting of the season for the division rivals and again, like the Florida game, is critical for playoff standings.
The Sabres will then host New Jersey on January 8 before their first set of back-to-back games, the aforementioned visit to Carolina, followed by the home bout against the Lightning. Tampa Bay has been excellent this season and it’ll be a tough test for the Sabres at this point in the season.
After that, the Sabres begin a five-game road trip. They’ll head to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver for three games in five days, with one day between each game. Those are all late starts thanks to the west coast time difference, so get your caffeine ready and prepare to stay awake to see just what happens.
The league then goes to break for the NHL All-Star Game, being held on January 26 in San Jose.
The Sabres return to action on January 29 and 30 with visits to Columbus and Dallas. That’s a quick turnaround - from a 7 p.m. faceoff in Columbus to an 8:30 p.m. faceoff in Dallas the following night.
Last season, the Sabres went 4-7-1 in the month of January - a month that also included the Western Canada road trip. Can they improve on that in 2019? Where will they finish the month in terms of the NHL standings, and how will the playoff push look at month’s end?
Stay tuned to find out.