PITTSBURGH — The Buffalo Sabres’ 2012-13 schedule reflects a big philosophy change. The Friday night home games, a staple for years, have dwindled to just four. As a result, the constant strain of playing back-to-back games has lessened.
The team only plays on consecutive days a franchise-low 11 times next season. They led the NHL in back-to-back sets the last two, playing 22 and 21.
“(Owner) Terry Pegula tasked us with getting the best possible schedule for our players, regardless of whether it meant sacrificing prime home weekend dates,” Sabres president Ted Black said in a statement. “As such, our schedule-making requests and decisions this year were driven by a “Hockey-First” philosophy that sought to reduce back-to-back situations and maximize the amount of recovery time between games.”
The Sabres have played the league’s most back-to-back sets since 2005-06, and averaged 20 a season in their 41-year history. Just five of the 11 in 2012-13 take place after Jan. 1, four less than the same period last season.
Clearly, with the Sabres filling the First Niagara Center each night, the team can afford to switch games to other nights. The Sabres have averaged 12 Friday home games a season since 2005-06.
The Sabres open the season and a three-game homestand Oct. 13 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They play seven of the first 10 games at home, and then go on a season-long four-game road trip. It’s the first time since 2001-02 the Sabres haven’t played five or more consecutive road games.
Overall, they have nine Sunday dates next season, including four home ones, up from one. They also have nine home contests on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
In addition, the team’s preferred start time is now 7 p.m. Friday games have been starting at 7:30 p.m.
The 82-game slate, released Thursday, has the same breakdown as the past four seasons: the Sabres play Northeast Division rivals six times (24 total), other Eastern Conference opponents four times (40 total) and Western Conference teams once, with three “at-large” contests – tilts against Chicago, Phoenix and San Jose – also added (18 total).
Other interesting home dates include a 5 p.m. New Year’s Eve tilt against the Ottawa Senators, a 3:30 p.m. start versus the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 3 (Super Bowl Sunday), a visit from the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 5 and the regular-season finale April 13 against the Boston Bruins.