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Sabres head out West early, with four games on the road following home opener

The Buffalo Sabres are going to get a chance to bond on the road right away. If they need to win games down the stretch, they’ll have the backing of their home fans.

The NHL released the 2016-17 schedule Tuesday, and the Sabres will rack up 36,334 air miles. A good chunk of it will come right off the bat.

After hosting Montreal in the season opener Oct. 13 in First Niagara Center, the Sabres will head to western Canada as part of a four-game road trip. Buffalo will visit Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver before ending the journey in Philadelphia.

Eight of the Sabres’ opening 12 games are on the road, including another lengthy jaunt to Winnipeg and Minnesota on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

The Sabres will make themselves at home during the final two weeks. Six of the last nine games will be in Buffalo, including the home finale against Montreal on April 5. The Sabres will close the regular season April 9 in Tampa Bay.

The Sabres may need the late boost from the fans because the final 10 games are against playoff rivals from the Eastern Conference.

Despite the disparity at the beginning and end, the Sabres’ schedule is relatively balanced. During the first 41 games of the season, the Sabres will play 20 at home and 21 on the road. During the second half, they’ll play 21 games at home and 20 on the road.

Fans should clear their schedules for the three busiest days of the week: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The Sabres will play 21 games on Tuesday nights, including 14 on the road. They will play 17 games on Saturdays, with nine at home. Thursday will be the most active night at the foot of Jim Kelley Way with 11 of the 16 Thursday games at home.

The 20 games in First Niagara Center on Thursdays and Saturdays will make up nearly half of the 41-game home schedule.

Season-ticket holders gave mixed reviews to the Sabres’ decision to host 10 afternoon games last season. The number has been cut to six this year. Buffalo will host four 1 p.m. Saturday games (Oct. 29 versus Florida, Dec. 3 against Boston, Jan. 7 versus Winnipeg, Feb. 18 against St. Louis), one 3 p.m. Sunday game (April 2 versus the New York Islanders) and a 1 p.m. Monday contest (Jan. 16 against Lindy Ruff and the Dallas Stars on Martin Luther King Jr. Day).

One of the Sabres’ five afternoon road games will be 1 p.m. Dec. 31 in Boston. That means Buffalo will be without its traditional New Year’s Eve home game.

Local sports fans will have three chances to cheer for the Sabres and Bills on the same day.

The Bills host San Francisco at 1 p.m. Oct. 16 while the Sabres visit Edmonton at 7 p.m. The Bills welcome New England to Ralph Wilson Stadium at 1 p.m. Oct. 30, and the puck drops in Winnipeg two hours later. The Sabres visit Boston at 7 p.m. Nov. 7, and the Bills kick off their Monday Night Football game in Seattle at 8:30 p.m.

Because the NHL Players’ Association agreed to the World Cup of Hockey in September and a three-on-three format in the All-Star Game, players on each team get a five-day break. The Sabres’ respite will be Feb. 20-24.

The condensed calendar will see the Sabres play 19 sets of back-to-back games, including home-and-away series with New Jersey, Columbus and Boston.

The Sabres’ longest homestands and road trips will be four games. In addition to the four-game journey at the start of the season, Buffalo will play a quartet on the road in January (Montreal, Nashville, Dallas, Montreal) and March (San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Detroit). Buffalo will host four in a row in November (Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Calgary, Detroit) and December (Edmonton, Washington, Los Angeles, Islanders).

The Sabres have an unenviable weekend against Central Division powers in mid-February. After hosting St. Louis on Feb. 18, Buffalo welcomes Patrick Kane and Chicago on Feb. 19.

Buffalo will host arch-rival Toronto three times (Nov. 3, March 25, April 3) and visit the Maple Leafs twice (Jan. 17, Feb. 11).

The overall breakdown by month is five games in April, eight in October, 13 in January and 14 in November, December, February and March.

The breakdown by day is three games on Wednesday, eight on Monday and Sunday, nine on Friday, 16 on Thursday, 17 on Saturday and 21 on Tuesday.

email: jvogl@buffnews.com