Toronto Maple Leafs Open Up 2009 With Chance To Make Ground In East

Derek HarmsworthSenior Writer IDecember 31, 2008

As 2008 winds down, and we turn our calendars to the year 2009, there are plenty of things to be thankful for.  Particularly if you're a sports fan.

You could argue that 2008 was one of the best years in sports history, and although it will be hard to top, one wouldn't put it past the world of sports to top what was accomplished in the past 366 days.

It starts tomorrow, when two of the most exciting teams in the National Hockey League battle for Central Division supremacy in the NHL's third outdoor game, as the Wings battle the Hawks at Wrigley Field.

You can also bet the next few months of 2009 will be worth watching as a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Which team will we see for the remainder of the NHL season?  The one that started the year overachieving and in the playoff picture, or the one that has looked listless and without a goalie who can make the big save?

Well, if the Maple Leafs are looking to get the season turned in the right direction once and for all, these next few days may be the best time to get going.

Really starting last night with a big win against the Thrashers, the Leafs have three straight home games against teams who are below, or around them in the standings. Combine the standings with the home cooking, and it may be a recipe for success for the Leafs to start 2009.

Tomorrow night they battle the Sabres in Toronto.  A team that has always given the Leafs trouble. The Blue and White have curved things a little in recent memory and have enjoyed some success against Buffalo.

The last meeting saw Toronto come away from Buffalo with a gutsy win, a 2-1 come-from-behind win.  The Sabres sit just three points ahead of Toronto, and are in possession of the eighth and final playoff spot.

From there the Maple Leafs battle the Senators and the Panthers.  

While those certainly aren't "gimme" games to say the least, both Ottawa and Florida have had their troubles this year, and sit 12th and 10th respectively, sandwiching the Maple Leafs between them.

From there they are in tough against Montreal and Philadelphia before closing the month out with games against the Predators, Hurricanes (twice), Thrashers, Bruins, Wild, Avalanche, and the Penguins (a game in which the Maple Leafs will honour Doug Gilmour).

While there are no easy games in the National Hockey League anymore, there is no doubt, looking at the standings, that the Maple Leafs have a chance to put their stamp on the Eastern Conference standings through the month of January.

Either that, or get closer to Tavares, Hedman, and the bevy of prospects who are shining at the World Junior Hockey Championship.  Really, it's somewhat of a win-win situation.

Just a reminder that Leafs Talk Today returns next week with two all-new episodes!  First we go live-to-air on Monday, January 5th with a special World Junior gold medal game countdown show, where we will be joined by Stanley Cup champion and Team Canada World Junior gold medalist, Darren Helm.

Then on January 7th we return to our regular day and time with an exclusive one-on-one interview with former Toronto Maple Leafs and current St. Louis Blues forward Alex Steen. 

For all the latest news on the show, be sure to check the official website of the show by clicking HERE.