As we inch closer to the initial puck drop of the 2017-18 Sabres season, some games seem to shine brighter than others. You might be looking forward to the four battles against Toronto in what appears to be a re-ignition of the Sabres-Leafs rivalry. Or possibly it’s the series of Saturday afternoon games as Buffalo plays host to a quintet of Western Conference foes. The truth is we’re all just happy hockey is back.
Here are the top 10 games to look forward to:
10. November 24 vs. Edmonton – While it’s the Oilers coming into Buffalo to take on the Sabres, it’s also something a little bigger. It is “Season 3, Episode 1” of Jack Eichel vs. Connor McDavid. Anytime the top two picks in the 2015 NHL Draft get together, there’s bound to be some exciting stick and puck to follow. McDavid has had the more impressive individual and team accolades thus far, but Eichel looks to continue the head-to-head momentum after the Sabres took the series against Edmonton a season ago.
Benoît Pouliot sees plenty of similarities between the #Sabres & his former team, the Edmonton Oilers (he talks about McDavid & Eichel) pic.twitter.com/VNsl8NeOT3
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) September 16, 2017
9. October 17 @ Vegas– The end of an early-season four-game West Coast road trip ends in the Sin City for Buffalo’s first ever matchup against the Golden Knights. We should be able to get an early feel to how well prepared Phil Housley will have his squad. It will be the Sabres’ fourth game in six nights, but against a team they should be markedly better than. Will they show up slow and sluggish finishing up the Western Conference swing, or do they come out ready to take two points from an inferior opponent?
8. October 25 @ Columbus – Buffalo played a total of eight nationally televised games on NBCSN last year, but that number drops to just two this season. That’s a seemingly odd change as it looks like they should be a much improved team. The Sabres get their first showcase to the rest of the viewing nation on a Wednesday night in Ohio. The Blue Jackets finished with 108 points last year, good for third most in the East. This game will be a good test to see where the Sabres stand against the true competition of the conference.
7. March 15 vs. Toronto – Speaking of true competition, this matchup starts a trio of home contests against upper-echelon teams in the league: Toronto, Chicago and Nashville. With less than a month remaining in the regular season, the Sabres find this grouping of games in the midst of a six-game homestand. Buffalo’s playoff chances will hinge on how well they play at KeyBank Center, especially against quality opponents.
6. December 2 @ Pittsburgh – In one of the toughest stretches of the season, this game is the back-end of a home-and-home set against the reigning Stanley Cup champions. After their back-to-back in Pittsburgh, Buffalo heads out to the Midwest for bouts against Colorado, Chicago and St. Louis. The plane ride to Denver will be much easier if they can scrape away a few points against the boys in black and yellow.
5. April 7 @ Florida – It has been quite a few years since the last game of the regular season has meant anything of significance to Buffalo in regards to playoff seeding and positioning. But if you’re forever the optimist, this is going to be the year. Buffalo ends the season with a back-to-back in Florida to take on the Lightning and Panthers. In a perfect world the Sabres will already be ahead of Florida in the standings and looking to continue climbing the ranks. If they’re not, well, this game won’t mean nearly as much.
4. March 5 vs. Toronto – Is it a coincidence that the NHL scheduled all four games between Buffalo and Toronto within the last month of the season? I think not. With hopes that this rivalry continues to heat up, the staggered scheduling of these meetings should produce quite the thrilling series of games. The young cores of both teams provide an exciting brand of hockey, with Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel headlining the superstar talents.
3. January 18 @ NY Rangers – This is not just any midseason Thursday night game. It’s Buffalo’s first game after their “bye week,” a time in which they struggled mightily last year. The Sabres stunk en route to a 2-7-2 record in their first 11 games following the bye. At a time when you figure a team to be healthier and more well-rested than at most points throughout the campaign, that is an unacceptable outcome. Buffalo comes out with five games in its next eight days, finishing with a three-game trip north of the border.
2. January 1 vs. NY Rangers – What is better than the Winter Classic? A decade ago, Buffalo was chosen to host the first Winter Classic in what has become a yearly tradition across the league. This year, Buffalo travels to Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, to take on the Rangers in the opening game of the New Year. While a home game on paper, this is actually the middle of a seven-game, 17-day trip when the Sabres don’t play a game in Buffalo. It is meant to be a fun game, but there are still two awfully important points up for grabs.
1. October 5 vs. Montreal – The two best words you can say to a sports fan: Opening Night. Hockey is officially back. Lace up your skates and get ready for another year of Sabres hockey!