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Welcome back to my first set of picks after the All-Star break! I wasn’t able to get picks out yesterday, however I am back today to deliver a winner after some time off. I also have a few thoughts on the whole All-Star weekend festivities in general. It’s clear that the All-Star game itself has become an even slower version of what it used to be and it was very clear this year that these guys are paid too much money and therefore are too valuable to risk injury or anything along those lines in an event like this. That’s a given. What I had a problem with was the skills competition. It was barely entertaining, the breakaway competition was extremely painful to watch, and although you saw plenty of smiles from the players, it’s obvious most of them would rather be at home or on vacation than participating in the event. I was all for keeping this weekend in tact to entertain the fans, however after witnessing this past weekend’s events, it may be better served for everyone to stay home and relax for the weekend.
Nonetheless, let’s get a pick out here and start the second half of the season on a good note.
Toronto Maple Leafs @ New Jersey Devils
My Pick – MAPLE LEAFS (+110)
If there was ever a team in need of some time off to rest, recuperate and rejuvenate it was most definitely the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs have lost six straight contests and 14 of their last 17 games overall. They are now without their Captain in Dion Phaneuf who sustained a hand injury in the club’s final game before the break against the Ottawa Senators. However, it’s not all lost for Toronto as the team will welcome sparkplug Leo Komarov back in to the lineup this evening as well as third line center Peter Holland who has missed some time with an injury as well. Joffrey Lupul is another candidate to return from injury tonight, meaning the Leafs could get an entire line back in to their lineup that has been decimated by injury over the last 6 weeks. The Devils currently sit five points back of Toronto, and if this team is going to make a push for the playoffs, it will need to start scoring more goals. Their 2.23 goals per game ranks 26th in the league and their 24.9 shots on goals per game ranks 29th overall. Their 7-7-6 record on home ice is rather uninspiring and the main reason they are not further down in the Eastern Conference standings in the play of Corey Schneider, who has logged a lot of minutes this season for the Devils. Schneider has played all but 249 minutes of this season between the pipes for the Devils, and just like his predecessor Martin Brodeur, he is being relied upon heavily to be the backbone of this team. The Leafs broke out of their goal-scoring slump in their last game pre-break against the Senators with three goals and 40 shots on net, a sign that this team’s offense could very well be coming around. They have ranked near the top of the league in scoring all season long and their 2.9 goals per game should not be overlooked, even against a fairly solid defensive team in the Devils. It was only a matter of time before Toronto’s potent offense got back on track and now that they have, it’s likely they can make up for some lost time and get hot once again. I like the Leafs coming out of the break with a healthy forward group to take it to the Devils tonight and snap their six-game winless skid.