Yesterday, the NHL released the 2013-14 season schedule, and also released their confusing new division names. While we spent most of yesterday thinking of how to best use our "Metropolitan Division" jokes, we decided to take a closer look at the Buffalo Sabres schedule today and see if we can't predict how things will go next year.
The team's website has already broken down the schedule on a grander scale, and we recommend you check it out for an overview of home/away breakdowns and important dates on the schedule. We decided to go with a month-by-month breakdown to see where the schedule gets tough, and which months the blue and gold might find a bit of success.
Before we get there, however, a few interesting notes to consider. The team has only 13 sets of back-to-back games, their lowest number (for an 82 game season) in franchise history. However, they play three games in four nights on twelve of those occasions. The team also has very short homestands and road trips; the longest homestand is just three games, and the longest road trip is just five games long. With that being said, let's fast forward to October.
Total games: 15 - Home: 8 - Away: 7
Notes: The Sabres start the season prominently featured on national TV with four games on NBCSN, and one on NHLN. For those of you who plan vacations around Buffalo sports, this is the only month that features a Bills/Sabres combo, with the Bills playing the Dolphins on 10/20, and the Sabres visiting the Panthers on 10/25. We'll also have the first visits to the FNC for Jason Pominville and Lindy Ruff in October. Their 15 games is the most the team will play in any month.
Outlook: It's a tough start for the Sabres, with 3-in-4 against Detroit, Ottawa, and Pittsburgh to start the season in rough fashion. In fact, 8 of their first 11 games are against teams that made the playoffs last season. They also face what should be improved versions last season's non-playoff teams in Dallas, Columbus, and Colorado.
Total games: 13 - Home: 7 - Away: 6
Notes: Buffalo takes a short West Coast road trip at the beginning of this month, visiting LA, San Jose, and Anaheim.
Outlook: A number of tough Western Conference teams make November another difficult month for Buffalo. They'll play the Maple Leafs three times in this month (out of five), and will finish up their season series against Anaheim and Los Angeles.
Total games: 12 - Home: 7 - Away: 5
Notes: The Sabres do not play any games on Wednesday in December. That "hump day" camel from the GEICO commercial weeps softly.
Outlook: Finally, things get a bit easier in terms of opponents, as the Sabres will face weak Western Conference opponents with the Jets twice (including New Year's Eve in Winnipeg - ouch) and the Flames, and their Eastern opponents generally avoid the cream of the playoff crop, aside from two games against Boston.
Total games: 14 - Home: 8 - Away: 6
Notes: After spending two months off of national television, Buffalo returns to NBCSN with three games in January. The Sabres have a game on every Tuesday this month, but none on Friday.
Outlook: This is by far Buffalo's easiest month on the schedule opponent-wise. Out of 14 total games, only three come against playoff teams from last season. Instead, the team faces a double dose of Florida, Washington, Carolina, and Columbus. Add in games against New Jersey and Philly for good measure, and you've got yourself a pretty easy month.
Total games: 6 - Home: 4 - Away: 2
Notes: The NHL is taking a two week break in the middle of February to participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. If Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek are gone by then, the Sabres could have zero players participating. Hashtag suffering.
Outlook: Not much to say here, with two easy and four tough games in February. Should be a good chance for the team to rest and relax, as well as Sabres fans to watch guaranteed good hockey for two weeks.
Total games: 14 - Home: 4 - Away: 10
Notes: The Sabres longest road trip (five games) takes place this month, and their travel schedule will be very rough. They will have two games on national TV, one each on NBCSN and NHLN.
Outlook: Did you notice that the Sabres have had more home games than away games every single month thus far? Well March is where that starts to even out in a big way. Luckily, their heavy away schedule this month isn't too tough, with a good mix of bottom-feeders and #4-8 seeds from last season. Half of their 14 games are against Western Conference teams, so making up ground in a potential playoff race may be difficult.
Total games: 8 - Home: 3 - Away: 5
Notes: Despite the home/away disparity, the travel is not bad in April, with the longest road trips only going to St. Louis and Detroit. The final month of the season features just one NBCSN game.
Outlook: Buffalo's stretch run is a difficult one, with six of eight games coming against playoff contenders. They also have two separate 3-in-4 stretches in the short month, and end the season on Sunday, April 14th against the Islanders.
The Sabres schedule next year has a difficult start, gets easy in the middle, and toughens up again at the end. Of course, when you're a poor team, most of your games come against teams better than you, which makes every month a pretty tough one.
Unfortunately, it looks like the schedule sets up perfectly for the Sabres usual plan of tanking the first two months, then going on a heroic run in Jan/Feb only to fall just short of the playoffs. Hey, at least we'll all be in familiar territory, right?