So now the calendar has moved into March, the final full month of a Buffalo Sabres season that was cooked by Thanksgiving. What's left to watch for?
Actually, more than you might think.
The standings are mostly irrelevant unless you're an outlier still thinking a last-place finish is all that meaningful for draft lottery purposes. Even if the Sabres finish last, their chances of getting the No. 1 pick would be around only 18 percent. That, of course, would mean they would have a more than 80 percent chance of losing the Rasmus Dahlin lottery, a fate with which they're all too accustomed.
The Sabres were off Saturday and return to the ice Sunday morning. The final 17 games kick off Monday in KeyBank Center against Toronto, the first game of the season against the Maple Leafs.
Some items to look for as the schedule moves on:
Jack Eichel: The Sabres have issued no medical updates on their franchise center, who suffered a high ankle sprain Feb. 10 in Boston. He's been on the shelf for three weeks now and has yet to skate, although he has been seen around the arena not wearing a boot on his foot. Eichel would certainly want to be on the ice for the matchups against the Leafs but even those games will lose some luster with his former Team USA/Team North America buddy Auston Matthews sidelined by a shoulder problem. The betting here is Eichel returns at some point in mid- to late March to skate in the final 8-10 games of the season. He has 22 goals and 53 points in the 55 games he has played to date.
Rivalry with the Leafs: The teams meet in Buffalo March 5 and March 15, and play in Air Canada Centre on March 26 and April 2. The Leafs are comfortably in a playoff spot but still battling Tampa Bay and Boston for the Atlantic Division championship. It remains to be seen how many Eichel vs. Matthews games there will be this year, a loss for the league in the wake of their "good goal" choreography that was the talk of the All-Star Game in Tampa.
Home record: You might say these games are meaningless but they're clearly not going to be to General Manager Jason Botterill, who was steamed with the media again last week when recounting his anger during the dreary Feb. 17 loss to Los Angeles and about the team's home record in general. The Sabres are 9-18-3 downtown this year. That's the worst home record in the league and still two wins shy of tying the franchise low of 11 home wins set in 1971-72 at Memorial Auditorium.
There are 10 games left and there's no question Botterill wants the paying customers to get better showings. There are 12 NHL teams that entered Saturday with 20+ home wins this season and two other teams were at 19. This team is going nowhere until it starts racking up points at home like most playoff teams do.
Playoff impact: The Sabres aren't in the playoff race, but they'll be involved in it. Ten of the remaining games are against teams currently in a postseason slot or hot on the chase for one. You wonder if the April 7 finale at Florida could turn into a do-or-die game for the streaking Panthers, who posted a 4-1 victory over Buffalo Friday night in Sunrise to dump the Sabres for the third time this season.
Sweet Golden Knights: The upstart expansionites from Vegas make their first visit to town for a matinee Saturday at 1. It will be their fourth game on a five-game Eastern swing that opens Sunday in New Jersey. The Knights suffered a 5-4 home loss Friday night to Ottawa, equaling their season high with their third straight defeat. They entered Saturday four points behind Nashville for the Western Conference lead but eight points ahead of San Jose atop the Pacific Division, having already shattered expansion-year records for points and wins.
Housley meets his old team: Coach Phil Housley was an assistant the last four years in Nashville, serving a key role in helping the Predators get to the Stanley Cup final last spring. He meets the Predators for the first time as Sabres coach here on March 19, and then will likely get a warm salute from the crowd when he returns to Bridgestone Arena on March 31.
Stats to watch: Ryan O'Reilly (18) and Sam Reinhart (15) are closing in on 20-goal seasons. ... Improving defenseman Victor Antipin has nine assists in 40 games but has yet to register his first NHL goal. ... Goaltender Chad Johnson was just 1-8-3 until late January, but is 5-2 in his last seven decisions. Starter Robin Lehner is just 1-4-1 in his last six and 2-6-2 in his last 10. ... The Sabres have had just one shootout this year and that was their opening night loss to Montreal. They are just 4-14 in shootouts the last three seasons -- after going 15-10 in them during their two tank campaigns.