If the month of December was a road bump for the Buffalo Sabres, the month of January was a big push in a mediocre direction, for a franchise looking to right the ship.
While Buffalo only played ten games this month due to their CBA-mandated break mixed in with the All-Star Break, their 4-6-0 record in those games did not do much to impress.
Starting off on a positive note, Rasmus Dahlin continues to take a step forward.
In the 10 January games played, Dahlin led the Sabres with eight points and a team-high seven assists.
We always like to keep things in perspective but it seems as Dahlin gets even more comfortable with the National Hockey League game, the stats now back his play up more than ever.
While Jeff Skinner not-so-surprisingly led the Sabres with five goals, the second-most goals for the month go to Sam Reinhart and Evan Rodrigues.
Reinhart’s strong season continues while Rodrigues game appears to have hit its stride.
In 34 games prior to the calendar rolling to 2019, Rodrigues put up a quiet 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 34 games. Following the 10-game slate in January, Rodrigues has added seven more points (four goals, three assists) to his season total.
It has been discussed, ad nauseum at this point, that secondary scoring is the key to Buffalo hanging around the Stanley Cup playoff race heading into February and beyond, sustained offensive success for players like Rodrigues and Conor Sheary (one goal, six assists in 10 January games) will help this team win more games.
Secondary scoring also helps a bunch when the offensive firepower goes a little cold. In seven January games, Jack Eichel only found the back of the net once. January goes in the books as the second month this season that Eichel has scored only one goal (November – one goal in 15 games).
We did get to see Eichel and Jeff Skinner in the All-Star Game this month, which provided some exciting moments for Sabres fans.
Looking back on the weekend, it seems like Skinner’s shootout performance takes the cake.
Jeff Skinner FINALLY ends Henrik Lundqvist's incredible save streak at 12, crowning @HLundqvist30 as the winner of the competition! WHAT A MOVE by Skinner here though, eh?#NYR #Sabres pic.twitter.com/Ym1SNtAicn— Hockey Daily (@HockeyDaily365) January 26, 2019
Not bad for a player who boasts a career 16.7% success rate (six goals on 36 attempts) in the shootout.
Looking forward to February, therein lies another big test for the Sabres.
With 13 games in 28 days and the Trade Deadline mixed in towards the end of the month, potential for a lot of movement both on-and-off the ice is there.
The most important part of February is the home-to-road ratio. Buffalo, a 14-6-3 team at home, plays the next eight of 11 games at home. A strong stretch at home could easily jumpstart this team’s playoff hopes and launch them back into a playoff spot.
Buffalo currently sits third in the Eastern Conference Wild Card with 56 points. The Sabres are currently looking up at Columbus in second Wild Card spot (59 points) and Boston in the first Wild Card spot (61 points).
As for the Atlantic Division itself, Tampa Bay continues to lead the way with 76 points. At this point, it is doubtful anyone will be catching them.
Toronto sits second in the division with 62 points. They are by no means locked into the playoffs but their recent acquisition of defenseman Jake Muzzin says they are all-in this season.
The Montreal Canadiens are sitting in the final Atlantic Division slot. Safe to say they are no longer an upstart and they are indeed for real, with 61 points on the season.
Buffalo continues to have their work cut out for them, but the playoffs are still very attainable with the month of February right around the corner.