Buffalo Sabres: 5 Ways Sabres Can Improve in 2012-13

Jeff LangridgeCorrespondent IIISeptember 4, 2012

Buffalo Sabres: 5 Ways Sabres Can Improve in 2012-13

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    The Buffalo Sabres have been one of the NHL's enigmas for the past few seasons. They missed the playoffs for two seasons, made the playoffs for two seasons and missed them again last year.

    If the Sabres are to make it back to the playoffs this year, several things are going to have to go right for them. Last year, they were too easily pushed around by the opposition, and the team went out and made moves to make sure it won't happen again.

    With that taken care of, the Sabres are in a position to possibly contend for a playoff spot; however, these five things need to occur for that to happen.

Ryan Miller Returns to the Elite

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    Since the 2010 Winter Olympics, Ryan Miller hasn't exactly been at the top of his game. His win totals have gone down each season, and the Sabres have been the worse for it. However, Miller gave Buffalo some hope with his post-All-Star break performance.

    Going 19-6-5 after the All-Star break almost pushed the Sabres into a playoff spot; they ultimately fell just short in ninth place. If Miller can perform like he did in the second half last season, the Sabres' playoff chances skyrocket.

Fix the Penalty Kill

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    Buffalo's penalty kill wasn't horrible, but it was bad enough to just finish outside the bottom 10 of the league. If the Sabres want to make the playoffs, staying in that position will not be acceptable.

    With the saying that your goaltender is your best penalty killer as true as ever, Miller performing better will help with this category. However, players like Steve Ott and Patrick Kaleta are going to have to step up.

Fix the Power Play

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    The Sabres power play was slightly better than their penalty kill, as they finished 16th in the league. Buffalo has the talent to be successful on the power play, starting with Thomas Vanek and Christian Ehrhoff.

    In Ehrhoff's case, Buffalo needs to open up more space for him to unleash his cannon of a shot. Vanek is Buffalo's best sniper, and he can open up space for itself.

    Still, Buffalo needs more than those two to make its power play successful.

Youngsters Breakout

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    Young players like Luke Adam, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Cody Hodgson, Corey Tropp, Brayden McNabb, Tyler Myers and possibly Mikhail Grigorenko are all in a position to make an impact this season.

    With so many young players, the Sabres need many of them to play above their potential this year if they want to contend. Myers, in particular, needs to play like a player making $5.5 million.

Ville Leino Rebounds

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    Ville Leino was one of the most important players in Philadelphia's run to the Stanley Cup Final in the 2010 NHL playoffs. After the 2010-11 season, Buffalo signed him to a six-year, $27 million deal.

    In the first year of the contract, Leino thanked the Sabres by putting up only eight goals and 25 points—only four points better than his 2010 playoff point total in 52 more games.

    Leino needs to rebound next season to prove that he is not just a one-year wonder and that he deserves the contract that was given to him.