Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson questioned his players' passion after the club's latest loss, but that's unlikely to be a problem on Thursday.
The Leafs should have no trouble getting motivated for their first visit to Montreal this season, as Toronto tries to slow down the red-hot Canadiens in a matchup of Canada's Original Six rivals.
In their first season under Wilson, the Leafs (16-18-6) have been uneven, often struggling defensively and never winning more than three straight games. Lately, they've been unable to string together victories at all, alternating wins and losses in their last five and going 2-5-0 in their last seven.
The latest defeat was Tuesday's 4-2 home loss to Florida, as Toronto came out flat and was outshot 16-8 in the first period, falling behind 2-0. The Leafs never got within a goal again, and Vesa Toskala's 30 saves weren't enough to keep his career-worst goals-against average from slipping to 3.27.
"I was not very happy with the effort," Wilson said. "We had zero energy at all from any veteran players, to show up and lead the way. It was a quiet room before the game, it was quiet on the bench.
"We've got to find a way to get a little bit more passion or energy when we play a team like that."
Playing the Canadiens should evoke more of a reaction from Toronto's players. Including postseason, the NHL's original entrants from hockey's homeland have met 763 times, winning more Stanley Cups than any other teams.
The Leafs could also get a boost from within, as veteran winger Brad May is expected to make his first appearance for Toronto after coming over from Anaheim in a trade Wednesday. Center Matt Stajan, meanwhile, will return after missing five games with an eye injury.
Stajan, who was hurt by a soccer ball during a warm-up drill, was in the midst of a breakout season, totaling 30 points in 34 games after managing just 33 while playing all 82 games last season.
But offense hasn't been as much of a problem for Toronto, which ranks 28th in the league with a 3.45 team GAA.
The Leafs' defense could have its hands full with Montreal, which is averaging 3.6 goals in its last nine games, going 7-1-1 over that span - including a 6-3 road win over the New York Rangers on Wednesday.
Robert Lang had a hat trick in the third period, scoring shorthanded, at even strength and on the power play for the Canadiens (22-10-6).
Montreal had been 0-for-15 on the man advantage in its previous three games, but it went 2-for-4 against the Rangers and will now try to exploit the Leafs' struggling penalty kill unit, ranked 29th in the league.
"We've been able to get points and wins since the start of the year without having a really good power play," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. "We've worked on being a better defensive team, and that's helped us a lot."
That defense has been without injured All-Star goalie Carey Price for the last three games. It's unknown if Price - 16-4-5 with a 2.30 GAA this season - will be ready to play Thursday.
Jaroslav Halak is 2-1-0 in his place despite a 4.00 GAA over that span. Halak was in net for Montreal's 6-1 win in Toronto on Oct. 11, while Price allowed all of the Leafs' goals in the Canadiens' 6-3 loss on Nov. 8.
The teams split four meetings at Bell Centre last season.
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