Ten points separate the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the Atlantic Division, but both clubs appear to be happy with where they're at in terms of their wildly different expectations.
Boston seeks a fourth victory in five games when it hosts the well-rested Sabres on Saturday night.
The Bruins (19-10-4) expect to be among the NHL's elite every season, but they got off to a slow start to 2015-16 after missing last season's playoffs and dealing with changes in the front office.
They've gone 11-2-3 since Nov. 19, though, to close the gap on first-place Montreal and have used the holiday break to take a step back and evaluate that success. They also promised not to let Tuesday's 2-0 loss to St. Louis fester after being shut out for the first time all season.
"You know, we've taken a lot of strides forward and we definitely have to build on that and realize what we've done," center Patrice Bergeron told the team's official website. "But at the same time I think we can't be satisfied."
Tuukka Rask made 27 saves against the Blues, a game coach Claude Julien called "a measuring stick" against another quality opponent. Despite falling short, the overall run they made prior to the break has the Bruins thinking big as the new year approaches.
"I think we're right there," forward Brad Marchand said. "To this point, we've done really well, and we have to be happy with where we're at, but we just want to continue to get better."
Buffalo (14-16-4) is not expected to be competing for championships anytime soon, but it has made strides in its rebuilding process under first-year coach Dan Bylsma.
The Sabres dropped all three games on a trip to Western Canada before going 3-1-1 prior to the break. That includes Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to defending champion Chicago.
"We got back to what was our foundation," captain Brian Gionta said. "On that West Coast trip, we had a lot of turnovers, we were sloppy with the puck, never established our forecheck - so we got back into that kind of thing, managing the puck better and giving ourselves a chance to forecheck. We're a much better team when we do that."
Buffalo practiced Sunday, then enjoyed a much longer break than most other teams. Bylsma doesn't believe the extra time off will have any adverse effects.
It also gave center Tyler Ennis some extra recovery time. He returned Saturday after missing 15 games with a lower-body injury.
"The good news is, everybody's going to have (at least) three days off going into the 26th and won't feel their best on that day," Bylsma said. "It's not going to be any different for us because we have three more days. It's going to be quite similar for us.
"Having said that, we've played a lot of hockey in the last month. ... This is a much, much needed break for our group."
Former Bruin Chad Johnson made 26 saves against the Blackhawks and has started the last two. It's unclear if he or Linus Ullmark will be in net against Boston.
Rask has a 1.01 goals-against average over his last six and has won his last three against the Sabres.
Boston is 5-0-2 in the past seven meetings, but the teams haven't played each other since March.