The course of an 82-game NHL regular season never runs completely smooth. Some teams have felt that more than others.
October's optimism can quickly bleed into a nervy November. Injuries pile up along with losses. Identities crack before being fully formed. Confidence is at a premium. And we've barely hit the quarter mark of the season.
It's thought that a team can't secure its playoff spot in just a few weeks, but it can fall too far out of the race to catch up. Certain front-runners (Boston, Vegas, New Jersey, among them) have to feel secure in their early positioning. A few on the other side may have already been counted out.
Most teams fall somewhere in the middle, and a few have been walloped especially hard by adversity. We're breaking down some of those in-betweeners, from the problems they've faced to potential solutions that could help turn the page on a happier post-Thanksgiving chapter to this season.
After all, there's still a long way to go.
Buffalo Sabres: Growing pains
Buffalo's season began with promise. The Sabres were 7-3-0 on Nov. 2, boasting the NHL's fifth-best record and sitting second in the Atlantic Division. They've been the NHL's worst team ever since. Back-to-back losses at Carolina and Tampa Bay started a skid from which Buffalo has yet to recover — an eight-game losing streak (through which the Sabres have been outscored 38-19) with seemingly no end in sight.
Problems: Everyone from coach Don Granato to top defenseman Rasmus Dahlin has posited theories about the Sabres' rapid decline. An increasingly impatient Granato — who chalked up the skid early on to a necessary learning experience — has since cited a lack of urgency and identity within the group. Dahlin thinks Buffalo is short on swagger. Killer instinct? They don't have it. Or at least, not enough to pull out of this funk.
Those are the intangible issues. Buffalo's performance on the ice has been laborious.
In the Sabres' past eight games, only Jeff Skinner has scored more than one five-on-five goal. Tage Thompson has been an excellent producer on the power play, without the even-strength offense to match. Buffalo is averaging the most goals against per game since Nov. 3 (4.75) and their penalty kill is tied for worst in the league since then.
Eric Comrie's play in net deteriorated (0-4-0, .865 save percentage and 4.28 goals-against average) until he was hurt against Ottawa earlier this month, forcing Buffalo to recall Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen as a complement for 40-year-old Craig Anderson. The veteran Anderson has outplayed Comrie of late (.881 SV%, 3.84 GAA), but at his age, Anderson can't be rolled out each night. Despite the Sabres' best offseason efforts, goaltending is a problem — again.
Buffalo has potential stars on the roster. Granato is still figuring out how best to use them. Dahlin deservedly generated early Norris Trophy buzz that has fizzled slightly along with the Sabres' hopes of busting an 11-year postseason drought. And that's not Dahlin's fault. He has arguably been Buffalo's best player, carrying a heavy workload and shepherding rookie Owen Power when they're paired together. The Sabres just need more of everything, from everyone, everywhere. And that's going to be even tougher to get now that Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons are out with injuries, too.