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Toronto Maple Leafs: Second Half Surge?

Louis PisanoAnalyst IJanuary 5, 2010

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 07: John Mitchell #39 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Detroit Red Wings at the Air Canada Centre on November 7, 2009 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Tonight marks the beginning of the second half of the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and if they are going to get going, now’s the time!

The Leafs host the pesky Florida Panthers tonight at the ACC; the teams are meeting for the second time this season.

The first battle between these teams was a high-scoring affair in which Toronto fell behind early—no surprise—but came back and won 6-4 during a sweep of both Florida teams.

Both starting goalies will be the same for this game as in the first meeting, with Jonas Gustavsson going for the Leafs and Tomas Vokoun between the pipes for the Panthers.

Both these teams need to win!

But the Leafs should be playing with much more urgency than Florida if they expect to even get a sniff of a playoff spot, as Ottawa and Montreal are both 6-4 in their last ten, and are showing signs of bearing down for a run.

Toronto has tightened up on the back end as of late, and has been keeping the puck out of their net with more consistency. If they hope to make a playoff push, this will have to continue.

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The Leafs haven’t given up more than three goals in their last seven games, but only have a record of 2-3-2 to show for their efforts. They scored just nine goals during those seven games.

Toronto must stay focused defensively while continuing to put the puck in the net as they have shown they can.

From where do the Leafs get a spark?

John Mitchell returns to the lineup tonight, after being out six weeks with a knee injury; he will hopefully contribute immediately.

Jonas Gustavsson will have to show he is the goalie of the future now. He needs to try and take this team on his rookie shoulders, at least between the pipes, as Vesa Toskala has been terrible this year aside from a few games.

Jason Blake can’t just lead the team in shots on net in the second half; he’ll have to either score or put the puck on the stick of someone who can.

Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan should start shooting the puck more, as they lead the team in shot percentage with 15.4 and 14.1, respectively.

Phil Kessel's production has slowed lately, as seemingly the whole team has had a problem bulging the twine.

Teams seem to be keying on Kessel, though, and collapsing on him when he has the puck in the offensive end.

With this being the case, someone else will have to step up their game. Kessel may have to start looking for teammates to pass to, in order to take some pressure off himself.

The loss of Mikhail Grabovski, who sits tied for fifth with Blake in team scoring, definitely hurts.

This loss may give some opportunity to a guy like Viktor Stalberg, who has shown signs of what the Leafs expected of him earlier this season, scoring while in his second stint up with the big club.

Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky will have to keep doing what they have been doing, though Ponikarovsky could use a little more production.

After a horrid start to the season that all of Leafs Nation has tried to forget—though after browsing the standings, it's difficult to overlook—the Leafs will really have to get a move on.

All in all, the Leafs need more production out of the guys that are expected to bring scoring, and they need a second-half surprise player or two if they are going to make a true run at the postseason.

Tonight is the beginning of the second half, and the Leafs need to win!

Go Leafs Go!

In case you didn’t know, Gabe Morency (formerly of The Score ) has launched his new website. Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter, my B/R counterpart, and I will be throwing down our podcast “Get The Puck Out ” every Saturday from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM.

The next show will be January 9; we’ll be giving you our opinions, and taking your calls on the hottest topics in the hockey world.

The live podcast will be broadcast in-studio from downtown Toronto, featuring some betting analysis, fantasy advice, trivia, team/player updates, and more puck talk than you can imagine.

Be sure to call in and let your opinion be known. Don’t miss it, puckheads!

You can catch Morency and “Get The Puck Out” at www.morencysports.com

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