One thing that was enjoyable about last season was the good spread of the schedule, but with the weight of the division taking up the later games in the season when they should matter the most. Finishing the majority of the Metro Division and Western Conference games before March added relevance to those directly around them in-division, who vied for playoff berths or remain relevant.
The Buffalo Sabres were (barely) one of those teams, having played the Lightning five times last season, with the majority of the season series completed by January 9th (the last game was played on March 3rd). The Lightning went 4-0-1 against Buffalo and moved on to bigger things. I think you saw evidence of the bigger aspect by way of the banner rising Thursday night at Amalie Arena.
With the poor state of the Sabres, who had the worst record in the NHL in 2014-15 (23-51-8, 54 points); a revamp was in store... And not just by way of a high draft pick in Jack Eichel (selected #2 overall). Evander Kane was acquiredduring latter stages of last season from the Winnipeg Jets and Ryan O'Reilly was pulled in from the Colorado Avalanche. Goaltending was shifted with Robin Lehner acquired from the Ottawa Senators while other shifts and changes were made to the club in preparation for 2015-16.
Are the Sabres a threat? How soon with the Lightning and NHL find out? Well, this is where the schedule comes into the story. Usually you get an idea of a club's competitiveness and ability by the second month of the season. The league will get an idea, in part, after the Sabres complete their season series against the Lightning. See, this afternoon is game 1 of the season series (pretty obvious of course), and the completely schedule of Lightning / Sabres games for the 2015-16 regular season will be complete in a month even on November 10th at First Niagara Center.
At any rate, Buffalo is 0-1-0 after 1 game, losing 3-1 to the Ottawa Senators. The reason for optimism from the game was Jack Eichel notching his first career NHL goal in the loss. Eichel saw a boatload of ice time, nearly 22 minutes, and was a minus-1 in the affair. It's a start... that or paints expectations too high for a rookie? I suggest something dark like that not to put down Eichel or the Sabres but to invoke memories of how Jonathan Drouin caught our attention during his NHL debut performance in October of 2014... And how his use changed shortly after the team arrived back east after a western Canada trip (and other injured players on the roster healed up).
Drouin's second season also started promising, with his two assists and was a plus-1 on the night as well as 15:14 of ice time. It's one game, though. The positive production is certainly encouraging.