When you analyze the Buffalo Sabres' schedule and the road to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you have to start right at the beginning here in October.
The season starts farther away from home than at any time in the franchise's history, more than 4,100 miles away in Helsinki, Finland, against the Anaheim Ducks.
Oddly enough, the last three Stanley Cup champions all opened their campaigns overseas in the NHL Premiere Series. It's a good omen the Sabres, Ducks, New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings all hope holds again this season.
"I'm buying into that stat," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "I like that one. If that works, let's go over every year."
Among the previous Cup winners, the 2010-11 Boston Bruins went 1-1 against the Phoenix Coyotes in the Czech Republic, the 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks were 1-0-1 against the Florida Panthers in Helsinki and the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins were 1-1 against Ottawa in Stockholm, Sweden.
The Sabres' last overseas trip was a training camp journey to Austria with the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to the 1998-99 season. And how did that season end? In Game Six of the Stanley Cup final against Dallas, the famous No Goal game.
"I've thought of that too. It's been mentioned," Ruff said. "There are some factors we hope will become key and that's especially any time you can get your group together without distractions for seven or eight days on the road.
"It's not unlike the trip we had last year (a 4-2-1 March run over a 12-day span). The team came together, played well on that trip and we came home and played well. Those times are important for your team."
Before hunkering down in Finland to prep for the opener, the Sabres saw the German countryside, had an on-ice meet-and-greet with fans who traveled across the ocean to see them and had an emotional visit to a military hospital.
"There's a lot to be said about the bonding thing," NBC NHL analyst Pierre McGuire said this week on a season-preview conference call. "You can bring your guys together pretty quickly on those trips."
"It is very important when you have new players," added network analyst and former NHL player Eddie Olczyk. " If you can get them knowing each other and your system, they come together a lot quicker.
"When you do hit that rough spot at some point which all teams go through sometimes, they're just camouflaged a little bit more because of how well you may be playing or where you are in the standings."
At least the Sabres should be well-rested after the trip. They don't have to go West after Europe like the Carolina Hurricanes did last year or the Rangers do this year because they can't play right away in the under-renovation Madison Square Garden. Neither team played their home opener until Oct. 27.
The Sabres open in First Niagara Center against the Hurricanes on Oct. 14, but the October schedule is still rough.
The five days off after Europe are followed by the home opener and a road game the next night at Pittsburgh. Then come road games at Montreal, Florida and Tampa Bay, meaning six of the first seven games are out of town.
Here's a look at some of the key elements to the schedule:
The start: Few teams miss the playoffs after starting 6-0-2, like the Sabres did in 2008-09. Last year, in fact, the Sabres were the only Eastern team not in the top eight on Dec. 1 -- 57 games from the end of the season -- that managed to sneak into the postseason. So it's important for the Sabres to get going quickly and match their high expectations.
Long roads: With Atlanta replaced in the Eastern Conference for one year by Winnipeg, the Sabres have two extended trips that include jaunts to Manitoba. One is in January (Long Island, Detroit, Chicago, Winnipeg, St. Louis) and one is in March (Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver, Winnipeg).
The January trip is part of a seven-game run around the all-star break that leaves Buffalo with no home games from Jan. 13 to Feb. 1.
Home cookin': The Sabres can quickly hunker down in Buffalo the last week in October. From Oct. 25 to Dec. 16, the team has 18 of its 24 games at home. Same with February, with nine of 13 at home.
Paying the piper: Look out in January (nine of 12 on the road), and for a tough finish (seven of the last 11 away).
A bottom line: The Sabres have finished with at least 90 points in all six seasons since the lockout and have averaged 45.5 wins. They'll be above average this year. Call it 47-27-8 for 102 points.
Said NBC's McGuire: "You can't say enough about what Mr. Pegula has done in Buffalo. They were so close for so long, then they had to lose key components. They don't have to do that anymore. I love where this thing is going. Buffalo is going to cause a lot of heartache for a lot of teams."