The Buffalo Sabres might have stopped the freefall just in time, but it won't be easy to keep moving in the right direction.
As the Sabres kick off a three-game road trip through Western Canada with a Thursday clash at the Calgary Flames, they are on a 3-1-2 run capped by a 7-1 home win over the New Jersey Devils on Monday.
However, five of Buffalo's next eight games are against clubs currently sitting in a playoff position, and the other three opponents are the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators and Flames - clubs expected to be in the hunt for a playoff spot.
"The last couple of weeks, we think we've been playing pretty good hockey," forward Conor Sheary said. "We haven't gotten a lot of results, and part of that is because of secondary scoring. The other part is special teams, and both of those were good (against the Devils). Hopefully that will give us confidence moving forward."
This season has been a roller coaster for the Sabres. They posted an 8-1-1 mark in the first 10 games, then won only twice in their next dozen outings before stemming the tide.
The hope is that one-sided victory over the cellar-dwelling Devils - Buffalo staked itself to a 5-0 lead by the end of the first period - is a sign things are in order.
"They did a good job of managing it with 5-0," Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger said. "We haven't been in that position before, and Linus (goaltender Linus Ullmark) did a good job too. It was nice to see the guys explode. ... Just a lot of things happening that we can build on."
The Flames appear to also be finding their form. Coming off a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, Calgary has a 3-0-1 mark in the past four games, and the team must be happy the calendar has turned to a new month. In November, the team saw defenseman T.J. Brodie collapse on the ice during practice and coach Bill Peters become embroiled in a controversy that led to his resignation.
"Everyone's been through a lot, emotionally, lately here," forward Milan Lucic said. "When you're on the ice, it's like that Happy Gilmore ‘Happy Place'-type of thing. You're not really thinking about anything other than when you were a kid playing the game of hockey. When you work hard and get the result, there's no better feeling, so we've got to keep that going."
The win over Ottawa kicked off a stretch in which the Flames play seven of nine games at home. With the benefit of some rest - they actually had two consecutive days off following their last game - the Flames are optimistic they are prepared to take advantage of the opportunity before them.
"The biggest thing we've noticed over the last couple of games was how tight we were defensively," interim coach Geoff Ward said. "It was better than it has been. Good teams and winning teams, they know how to manage games. Even on nights when you're not having your best effort, defensively and away from the puck, you're still good and you find a way to keep yourself in the game and a lot of times, win the game."
The Flames also will receive a boost against Buffalo as second-pairing defenseman Travis Hamonic is poised to return after missing six games due to a lower-body injury.
--Field Level Media