October 28. Twenty-eight days into the 2013-14 NHL season, the Buffalo Sabres will host Lindy Ruff and the Dallas Stars.
It’s a date many Buffalo fans have surely awaited since June 21, when Ruff was announced as coach of the Texas team that has remained in Sabres lore since Brett Hull’s controversial goal in the 1999 Stanley Cup final.
It’s one matchup among several that jump off the page when looking at next season’s schedule, which the NHL released Friday afternoon.
The story lines are many. And the fun begins with a showdown against a new division foe.
Buffalo will open its slate on the road against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 2. The teams are now division rivals, as both are part of the newly formed eight-team Atlantic Division.
The Sabres should have fresher legs this year; following the hurried 48-game schedule this past season, Buffalo will play on consecutive nights just 13 times in 2013-14. That’s a franchise-low number for a club that has led the NHL in back-to-backs since 2004-05, the lockout year.
The NHL has instituted new divisional alignment – the Eastern Conference includes the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions, while the West includes the Central and Pacific – and the new schedule ensures each team plays in all 30 arenas at least once.
The Sabres’ Atlantic Division includes Detroit, Boston, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto. Buffalo will play 30 games against its Atlantic opponents, 28 against Western Conference teams and 24 against Metropolitan teams. The West has two fewer teams than the East.
Buffalo will be busy from the outset, as the men in blue and gold will play 15 games in October.
The home opener comes two days after the team’s season begins, with Buffalo hosting the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 4. Canisius College graduate Cory Conacher is a left wing for the Senators.
Jason Pominville will return to the First Niagara Center with the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 14.
The Sabres will host Milan Lucic and the Boston Bruins Oct. 23, Dec. 19 and Feb. 26.
Buffalo native Patrick Kane and the recently crowned Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will come to town March 9.
Buffalo will have five three-game home stands – one in October, one in November, one in December and two in January.
The Sabres’ longest road stretch will come March 18-27, with five games scheduled. The treacherous trip begins in Calgary and ends in Nashville.
The league will take a 17-day break from Feb. 9-25 to allow players to participate in the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Canada took the gold medal in 2010 with a 3-2 overtime win against the United States. The Sabres will play only six games in February.
This year’s Winter Classic will be played Jan. 1 in Michigan Stadium, where the Toronto Maple Leafs and Red Wings will square off.
The Sabres will play nine nationally televised games, including the season opener, all on NBC Sports Network.
The NHL season officially begins Oct. 1, with three games scheduled for that night – including the Blackhawks taking on the Washington Capitals, before which Chicago will raise its championship banner.
The Blackhawks and Bruins, the teams in this year’s Stanley Cup final, will play twice during the regular season, Jan. 19 in Chicago and March 27 in Boston.