Through 24 games, the Buffalo Sabres have a 10-12-2 record. Despite a six-game winless streak that started in mid-November, Buffalo has bounced back in their last two games with victories over the Carolina Hurricanes and the Nashville Predators.
The Sabres are currently five points out of the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Success in the month of December will be crucial for Buffalo with regard to the playoff race. The Sabres will play 14 games in December which includes a Western Conference road trip and several key matchups against Eastern Conference foes.
At the beginning of the season, many fans were looking forward to Buffalo’s December 6th tilt with the Edmonton Oilers. However, Oilers’ forward Connor McDavid suffered an injury earlier this season that has kept him out of action. According to NHL.com, McDavid is said to be ahead of schedule but fans likely will need to wait until March to watch McDavid and Eichel meet for the first time. December still holds many intriguing matchups and here is a look at four must-see games that are on tap for the Sabres.
[See Also: Buffalo Sabres Snap Winless Streak]
December 1st: Buffalo Sabres vs. Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings’ forward Dylan Larkin has taken Detroit by storm during his rookie season. The nineteen-year-old is a Michigan native and he was selected 15th overall during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the Red Wings. According to NHL.com, Larkin has scored 10 goals which leads all NHL rookies. Larkin also has eight assists tying him for third among rookies and he leads all rookies in plus-minus with a plus-14.
The Sabres’ first game of December against Detroit will mark the first career meeting of Larkin and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel. The game will also be an opportunity for the Sabres to gain ground in the playoff hunt. The Red Wings currently hold third place in the Atlantic Division and they are six points ahead of Buffalo. Detroit has the NHL’s fourth-best penalty kill that will test the Sabres’ power play unit which ranks seventh in the NHL.
December 4th: Buffalo Sabres vs. Arizona Coyotes
With the ugliness of last season behind the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes, both clubs have emerging young talent that will be on full display in this early December matchup. Through consecutive last place finishes, the Sabres drafted Sam Reinhart in 2014 and Jack Eichel in 2015. In 24 games this season, Eichel has eight goals and 12 points while Reinhart has scored six goals and nine total points.
Similar to Buffalo, the Arizona Coyotes have amassed a strong talent pool in recent years through the draft and through trades. Two youngsters that have played an important role for the Coyotes this season are forwards Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. Domi was selected 12th overall by Arizona in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He has eight goals and 20 points so far this season. Anthony Duclair was acquired last season in deal that sent Keith Yandle to the New York Rangers. Duclair is a former third round pick of the Rangers. He has eight goals and 14 points so far this season.
December 19th: Buffalo Sabres vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago currently is in third place in the Central Division. Much of their success this season is a result of the efforts of Buffalo native Patrick Kane. After some offseason legal issues, Kane has been one of the NHL’s most productive players on offense. According to NHL.com, Kane leads the NHL in points and assists. His 14 goals tie him with St. Louis Blues’ forward Vladimir Tarasenko for the second highest total in the NHL. Kane has scored at least one point in each of his last 19 games and he is the first American-born player to accomplish this feat.
Buffalo has lost their last seven games against the Blackhawks. The Sabres’ last victory against Chicago occurred during the 2009-2010 season. The Blackhawks are one of the NHL’s elite clubs and this game will be a huge test for the Sabres. Chicago has the fifth ranked power play and the ninth highest total goals scored in the NHL. The Sabres will need to find a way to neutralize Pat Kane and the Blackhawks’ offensive attack to end their losing streak against Chicago.
December 26th: Buffalo Sabres vs. Boston Bruins
The Sabres will head to Boston on the day after Christmas to face the Bruins for the first time this season. The rivalry may have gone a bit stale in recent years as the Sabres struggled but as Buffalo improves the rivalry is poised to re-intensify. The Sabres defeated the Bruins just three times in the last two seasons including a 1-1-2 record against Boston last season.
The Bruins currently are five points ahead of the Sabres in the standings and they hold possession of the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. A Sabres’ victory will help the club gain ground in the playoff race. Boston has played well in recent weeks winning their last five games. However, through 22 games the Bruins have a 5-6-1 home record.
[See Also: Top 5 Buffalo Sabres Power Play Goals]
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW