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Monday games by Sabres get booster shot

Hockey in July? Why not? Let’s go around the NHL schedule. …

• If the Sabres’ marketing department was fretting over the thought of trying to move tickets of early-season games against Western Conference opponents, they’re living easier these days. The schedule announced Friday gave the Sabres some unexpected help.

If nothing had changed here since the start of last season, Monday night games in October against Minnesota and Dallas would have been absolute death for single-game sales. Not anymore.

The Oct. 28 visit by the Lindy Ruff-led Stars might be the second-most interesting date of the season, behind only the March 9 trip into town by Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks. And I would imagine the Oct. 14 visit by Jason Pominville and the Wild will be another big house that would have otherwise never happened.

The Sabres also have an October 17 visit by Vancouver, a sure-fire sale among Canadian fans, and an Oct. 19 game against Colorado that should bring plenty of curiosity with the Buffalo debut of No. 1 overall draft pick Nathan MacKinnon.

By the way, Kane’s visit will be Chicago’s first here since Oct. 11, 2010 – the longest absence by any opponent.

• The Sabres’ NCAA Tournament-forced roadie in March is a brutal one, with five games in 10 days stretching from Calgary to Edmonton to Vancouver – then coming all the way back to Montreal and moving to Nashville before returning home. Ouch.

• The Sabres also got a tough draw within the Atlantic Division, as their two five-game series are against Toronto (two at home) and Boston (three at home). Could have used a five-gamer against at least one of the Florida teams.

• The NHL’s Olympic deal is forcing the Sabres to play 15 games in 30 days in October to make up for the time lost in February. It also delayed the release of the schedule, and the league blew a golden chance for major dominance of a summer news cycle by failing to get it out on one of Major League Baseball’s two dark days last week. Very poor.

• Here’s your official reminder: Stop talking about the Sabres sneaking into eighth place or finishing 12th in the East. That’s out with a divisional playoff format. Where you once wanted the Sabres to be eighth in the East, you should be concerned they don’t go and finish eighth (aka dead last) in the Atlantic.

• It’s sort of funky-cool to have a “Metropolitan” Division with the three New York teams, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. Carolina and Columbus just have to live with it.

• Holy slow start, Batman, the Rangers’ schedule is goofy. Because of the final stages of the renovation project in Madison Square Garden, the Blueshirts open the season with nine straight road games from Oct. 3-26, meandering through Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim, St. Louis, Washington, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Detroit. And this comes after finishing the preseason with four Western games capped by a matchup against the Kings in Las Vegas.

The Rangers finally get rewarded with a nine-game homestand from Dec. 7-23.

• Ruff and Pominville should get huge cheers here. I imagine Vinny Lecavalier will when he returns to Tampa with the Flyers and Jarome Iginla will when he goes to Calgary with the Bruins. Don’t expect much love, however, for Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa when he makes his first visit with the Red Wings on Dec. 1. That was quite a last-minute turncoat move Alfie pulled.

• OK, one non-hockey thought: Thanks to all, from Bisons officials and staff to the fans, who made Friday night’s Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony at Coca-Cola Field a memorable one for my family and me. A career highlight for sure.