The 2014-15 National Hockey League schedule will prompt a busy start for the Buffalo Sabres – and perhaps a head start on the Connor McDavid Derby.
The Sabres have 11 games over a 22-day stretch in October, according to the 82-game slate released by the league Sunday. And they make a West Coast trip late in the month to Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose before finishing that jaunt with a game in Toronto.
Overall, the Sabres have 14 of their first 18 games against teams that made the playoffs last season and they face plenty of heavyweights in that stretch.
It includes two games apiece against Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Boston. There’s also road games at Chicago (the Blackhawks’ Oct. 11 home opener), defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles, San Jose, St. Louis and Minnesota.
The Sabres, of course, finished last overall in the NHL standing last season and figure to be in the battle for 30th place again come next April. That comes with the best lottery position for the right to draft McDavid, the Erie Otters center considered the NHL’s next generational player, during the 2015 selection in Sunrise, Fla.
A bad start will certainly bring back memories of last season, when the Sabres opened 1-9-1 under Ron Rolston and never recovered with Ted Nolan at the helm. They finished with a 21-51-10 record and just 52 points.
It was the lowest total by an NHL team since the 1999-2000 expansion Atlanta Thrashers had just 39 points, and the Sabres’ worst output since a 51-point performance in 1971-72. That was their second season in the league.
As revealed on Saturday, the Sabres open this season at home against Columbus on Thursday, Oct. 9. The Sabres have 11 games in October and 14 in November – their most in any month.
There are 13 games apiece in December, February and March, 12 in January, 11 in October and six in April. The variable ticket pricing designations for individual games will be released at a later date.
The Sabres’ longest homestand of the season is a five-gamer from Feb. 7-15. There are five straight road games in both January and from Feb. 28-March 11, but the first is broken up by the All-Star break and the second ends after three off days with a game in Toronto so the Sabres will also come home during that stretch.
The 2014-15 season marks the first “normal” 82-game schedule for the NHL in three years. Last season’s slate was tightened in several places to account for the three-week February break necessitated by the Sochi Olympics. And the 2012-13 schedule, of course, only saw 48 games played in ’13 due to the lockout.
The All-Star Weekend will return for the first time in three years, getting staged Jan. 24-25 in Columbus. The Blue Jackets were slated to host the lockout-canceled festivities in 2013.
The Sabres will have 25 of their 41 home games on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays or holidays, up from 16 last season. To accommodate the added weekend dates, their count of back-to-back sets will increase from last year’s franchise-low of 13 to 19.
Three of those sets are both home games, set for Oct. 17-18 (Florida-Boston), Nov. 7-8 (Edmonton-Pittsburgh) and Feb. 7-8 (Dallas-N.Y. Islanders).
Among other highlights:
• The Kings make their visit to Buffalo on Dec. 9.
• South Buffalo native Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks come to town on April 3.
• The Maple Leafs come to Buffalo twice, on Nov. 15 and April 1.
• The Sabres conclude the season by hosting Pittsburgh on April 11. That date and the Oct. 11 trip to Chicago mark two Saturdays where all 30 teams in the league will be playing.
• There are three holiday or pseudo-holiday games: A Columbus Day matinee Oct. 13 against Anaheim, a Thanksgiving Eve game Nov. 26 against Winnipeg and a New Year’s Eve game against Tampa Bay.
• The Columbus Day game is one of five matinees. The Sabres play Oct. 25 at San Jose (4 p.m. Eastern time), host 5 p.m. games against Detroit (Nov. 2) and the New York Islanders (Feb. 8) and play a 3 p.m. game Feb. 28 at Florida.
The Sabres will play each divisional opponent at least four times and the other teams within the Eastern conference three times each. They will play each team in the Western conference once at home and once on the road.
The Atlantic Division teams the Sabres will meet five times next season are Florida (three home) and Tampa Bay (three away). The Sabres played five games last year against Boston and Toronto, so it’s likely their five-game sets next year will be against Montreal and Ottawa.