Dan Bylsma's team has 10 afternoon home games. ©2015, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ 2015-16 schedule features early home games, new strategy

SUNRISE, Fla. – If slick center Jack Eichel joins the NHL next season, Buffalo fans will get a long look at the second overall pick October. The Sabres open the season with three straight home games for the first time in 40 years.

That’s just one highlight of the 2015-16 schedule the NHL released Thursday.

Six of the opening eight games are at the First Niagara Center, so Eichel, the phenom the Sabres will select tonight at the NHL Draft, could get used to the home fans early if he leaves college.

The Sabres open Oct. 8 against the Ottawa Senators before hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 10 – the first of seven Saturday games with a 1 p.m. start – and closing the home stand with a 3 p.m. contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 12.

Eichel should also get accustomed to playing hockey early. The Sabres have 10 afternoon home games, up from three last season.

Sabres president Ted Black worked “extensively” on adding afternoon games with general manager Tim Murray, who believes playing earlier in the day is advantageous for a young team and difficult for opponents.

“He believes playing a little bit earlier in the day and maybe getting out of the normal cadence what will become normal for us will be abnormal for other teams and he thinks the young kids will be a little bit more resilient with that,” Black said. “It also had a nice impact in reducing the number of back-to-backs.”

The Sabres only have 15 sets of back-to-back games next season, four fewer than last year.

They also have seven three-game home stands and don’t have a road trip longer than three games in a non-lockout season for the first time since 1989-90.

Of course, the schedule features its usual list of old friends and rivals.

Some highlights:

– The Sabres host the Toronto Maple Leafs and Mike Babcock, the coach the Sabres wooed last month, twice: Oct. 21 and March 31. The Sabres play their longtime rival four times.

– New Sabres coach Dan Bylsma returns to Pittsburgh to face superstar Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, a team he coached for six seasons, Oct. 29. The Penguins visit Buffalo on Feb. 21.

– Eichel, assuming he leaves college, would face No. 1 pick Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 6 in Edmonton and March 1 in Buffalo.

– Eichel would face his hometown Bruins for the first time Dec. 26 in Boston.

– The Sabres face the Jets for the first time since the Tyler Myers-Evander Kane blockbuster deal Jan. 10 in Winnipeg. The Jets visit Buffalo on March 26.

– South Buffalo native Patrick Kane and the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks visit Dec. 19.

The Sabres have 22 weekend home games – nine Fridays, 11 Saturdays and two Sundays – and play on Thanksgiving Eve (Nov. 15 against the Nashville Predators) and New Year’s Eve (a 6 p.m. start against the New York Islanders).

Under the second season of the NHL’s four-division format, the schedule breaks down as follows: 30 games against divisional opponents (five against two teams and four against five clubs); 24 contests against non-divisional Eastern Conference opponents (three games versus each team); 28 games against Western Conference teams (two contests against each club).

The Sabres play six of their first seven games against Atlantic Division rivals. Four of their first 15 games are against superstar Steven Stamkos and the Lightning, meaning they are done with the defending Eastern Conference champion after a Nov. 10 road game.

The complete 2015-16 schedule:

Thursday October 8 OTTAWA 7 p.m.
2 Saturday October 10 TAMPA BAY 1 p.m.
3 Monday October 12 COLUMBUS 3 p.m.
4 Thursday October 15 at Florida 7:30 p.m.
5 Saturday October 17 at Tampa Bay 7 p.m.
6 Wednesday October 21 TORONTO 7 p.m.
7 Friday October 23 MONTREAL 7 p.m.
8 Saturday October 24 NEW JERSEY 7 p.m.
9 Tuesday October 27 at Philadelphia 7 p.m.
10 Thursday October 29 at Pittsburgh 7 p.m.
11 Friday October 30 PHILADELPHIA 7 p.m.
12 Sunday November 1 at NY Islanders 7:30 p.m.
13 Thursday November 5 TAMPA BAY 7 p.m.
14 Saturday November 7 VANCOUVER 1 p.m.
15 Tuesday November 10 at Tampa Bay 7:30 p.m.
16 Thursday November 12 at Florida 7:30 p.m.
17 Saturday November 14 SAN JOSE 7 p.m.
18 Tuesday November 17 DALLAS 7 p.m.
19 Thursday November 19 at St. Louis 8 p.m.
20 Saturday November 21 at Dallas 8 p.m.
21 Monday November 23 ST. LOUIS 7 p.m.
22 Wednesday November 25 NASHVILLE 7 p.m.
23 Friday November 27 CAROLINA 7 p.m.
24 Saturday November 28 at Nashville 8 p.m.
25 Tuesday December 1 at Detroit 7:30 p.m.
26 Friday December 4 ARIZONA 7 p.m.
27 Sunday December 6 at Edmonton 8 p.m.
28 Monday December 7 at Vancouver 10 p.m.
29 Thursday December 10 at Calgary 9 p.m.
30 Saturday December 12 LOS ANGELES 7 p.m.
31 Monday December 14 at Detroit 7:30 p.m.
32 Tuesday December 15 NEW JERSEY 7 p.m.
33 Thursday December 17 ANAHEIM 7 p.m.
34 Saturday December 19 CHICAGO 1 p.m.
35 Saturday December 26 at Boston 7 p.m.
36 Monday December 28 WASHINGTON 7 p.m.
37 Wednesday December 30 at Washington 7 p.m.
38 Thursday December 31 NY ISLANDERS 6 p.m.
39 Saturday January 2 DETROIT 1 p.m.
40 Tuesday January 5 FLORIDA 7 p.m.
41 Friday January 8 at Chicago 8:30 p.m.
42 Sunday January 10 at Winnipeg 3 p.m.
43 Tuesday January 12 at Minnesota 8 p.m.
44 Friday January 15 BOSTON 7 p.m.
45 Saturday January 16 WASHINGTON 7 p.m.
46 Monday January 18 at Arizona 10 p.m.
47 Wednesday January 20 at Colorado 10 p.m.
48 Friday January 22 DETROIT 7 p.m.
49 Monday January 25 at NY Rangers 7 p.m.
50 Tuesday January 26 at Ottawa 7:30 p.m.
51 Wednesday February 3 at Montreal 7 p.m.
52 Thursday February 4 BOSTON 7 p.m.
53 Saturday February 6 at Boston 7 p.m.
54 Tuesday February 9 FLORIDA 7 p.m.
55 Thursday February 11 at Philadelphia 7 p.m.
56 Friday February 12 MONTREAL 7 p.m.
57 Sunday February 14 COLORADO 12:30 p.m.
58 Tuesday February 16 at Ottawa 7:30 p.m.
59 Friday February 19 at Columbus 7 p.m.
60 Sunday February 21 PITTSBURGH 12:30 p.m.
61 Wednesday February 24 at Anaheim 10:30 p.m.
62 Friday February 26 at San Jose 10:30 p.m.
63 Saturday February 27 at Los Angeles 11 p.m.
64 Tuesday March 1 EDMONTON 7 p.m.
65 Thursday March 3 CALGARY 7 p.m.
66 Saturday March 5 MINNESOTA 1 p.m.
67 Monday March 7 at Toronto 7:30 p.m.
68 Tuesday March 8 NY RANGERS 7 p.m.
69 Thursday March 10 at Montreal 7:30 p.m.
70 Saturday March 12 CAROLINA 1 p.m.
71 Wednesday March 16 MONTREAL 7 p.m.
72 Friday March 18 OTTAWA 7 p.m.
73 Saturday March 19 at Toronto 7 p.m.
74 Tuesday March 22 at Carolina 7 p.m.
75 Saturday March 26 WINNIPEG 1 p.m.
76 Monday March 28 at Detroit 7:30 p.m.
77 Tuesday March 29 at Pittsburgh 7 p.m.
78 Thursday March 31 TORONTO 7 p.m.
79 Saturday April 2 at NY Rangers 7 p.m.
80 Tuesday April 5 at New Jersey 7 p.m.
81 Friday April 8 COLUMBUS 7 p.m.
82 Saturday April 9 at NY Islanders 7:30 p.m.

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