When the Buffalo Sabres look back on this season, they may consider January the month that broke their playoff hopes — or the month they survived.
Things certainly haven’t been easy lately, and you can see the strain most clearly in the way Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark have struggled.
Before the calendar hit 2019, Hutton went 13-11-3 with a .916 save percentage, while Ullmark managed an 8-1-3 record and .922 save percentage. Things went sideways in January, however:
Ullmark: 2-3-0, .893 save percentage.
Hutton: 2-2-0, .860.
That’s troubling, particularly since the Sabres seemed to decide to continue the transition from veteran Hutton (33 years old) to intriguing young netminder Ullmark (25).
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Sabres or their goalie duo, though. Consider a few factors:
- Even with this slump, Buffalo’s enjoyed better team save percentage (.912) than the league average of .908.
- The Sabres have found ways to win some of these tough games. Wednesday’s game against the Stars in Dallas won’t be easy (they’re closing off of a back-to-back set after holding off Columbus), but the good news is that they’ll end a five-game road trip. After that, they’ll begin what could be a fruitful seven-game homestand on Friday:
Feb 1: vs. Blackhawks
Feb 5: vs. Wild
Feb. 7: vs. Hurricanes
Feb. 9 vs. Red Wings
Feb. 10: vs. Jets
Feb. 12: vs. Islanders
Feb. 15 vs. Rangers
- Having such a promising set of home dates is one reason why Buffalo’s goalies should shake off this slump. Another is simple enough: it’s still just a small sample size. You could probably zero in most precisely on the last six games as especially tough, as they’ve allowed 27 goals during that span.
- Buffalo managed not to sink too far in the standings amid this turmoil. While they trail the Pittsburgh Penguins for the East’s second wild-card spot, it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable gap:
The Sabres face the Penguins two more times this season, and also have one more game remaining against the Canadiens, who sit at the third place in the Atlantic with 61 points in 51 games played (26 ROW), so Buffalo can influence its closest competitors, too.
None of this is to say that this will be an easy journey for a franchise that sorely hopes to end its playoff drought, but the Sabres could make up some ground if their confidence hasn’t been shaken.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.