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Canadiens Postgame

Canadiens Xhekaj & Suzuki Star In Hard-Fought Loss Vs. Capitals



Montreal Canadiens Arber Xhekaj

The Montreal Canadiens hosted the Washington Capitals on Saturday night, resulting in an intense match-up at the Bell Centre featuring a bevy of goals.

Arber Xhekaj played a crucial role in the game, as did captain Nick Suzuki, but it was not enough to secure a win as the Capitals emerged with a 4-3 win.

Let’s jump into those highlights!

Allen’s Issues

Jake Allen has become the scapegoat for the team’s lack of results this year, which is a little unfair when you consider he’s ahead of Samuel Montembeault in both goals saved above expected and goals saved above average per 60.

On that note, I’d argue that even if Allen leads his counterpart in a few stats, Montembeault has been the better goalie overall, but the criticism sent Allen’s way has been a little heavy considering there’s not a huge difference between their numbers.

However, something is off with Allen in recent games. He can’t handle rebounds, he’s having a hard time tracking pucks, and his anticipation has been off, which means he’s rarely set for shots. The first Capitals goal was much too easy for Anthony Mantha, who simply pounced on a loose puck that Allen failed to freeze.


Controlled Entries Work

The Canadiens didn’t wait long to respond thanks to a nice neutral zone play between Joel Armia and Joshua Roy. They drove back the Capitals’ defence perfectly, which gave Arber Xhekaj all the time he needed to put his weight behind a massive point shot.

Speed through the neutral zone is never a bad thing, as it tends to lead to controlled entries, and controlled entries have higher odds of resulting in a scoring play.

It was Xhekaj’s second goal of the season in his 23rd game, roughly the same pace he scored last season as a rookie. It was also Roy’s third NHL point of his career, a smart play that should help keep him in the lineup as the team enters the final stretch of the season.

There’s a very heartwarming story behind the goal, as well.

Prior to the game, Xhekaj’s father asked him to score a goal to celebrate Kosovo’s Independence Day.

Mission accomplished.

Xhekaj didn’t just score a goal and fulfill his father’s wishes, he also brought an important physical presence to the game, as evidenced by his monster hit on Capitals grinder Nic Dowd.

Dowd did a good job frustrating Canadiens players all night long, but he was much less noticeable once Xhekaj dropped him like a bag of old potatoes.

His defensive play has taken a step back since he was promoted from the AHL, which isn’t surprising given that he was actually playing well defensively prior to his assignment to the Laval Rocket. Being told to work on something you’re already doing well is confusing messaging, especially for a player who has not yet etched out his permanent roster spot in the NHL.

The good news is that he’s had a chance to adapt to the speed in the NHL and his numbers have improved. Not to mention, you’d be hard-pressed to argue he does not bring a necessary physical element to the organization.

And this may not hold much value to the coach or the management team, but when Xhekaj is in the lineup the Habs are a much more entertaining team. In a difficult rebuilding season, having someone like him in place to provide a little entertainment value for the fans who spend their hard-earned money to attend a game at the Bell Centre is certainly important.

New Look Montreal Canadiens Newhook

We’ve often discussed the importance of having more than one line that can generate sustained presences in the offensive zone. The Canadiens have a very good line in place with Juraj Slafkovsky, Nick Suzuki, and Cole Caufield. They controlled well over 70 percent of the expected goals against the Capitals.

But it would be unrealistic to expect them to Carry That Weight every night as if they were a Beatles cover band.

Fortunately, the Alex Newhook, Armia, and Roy line told them to take a load off, and put the load right on them.

If Newhook hadn’t been injured he’d be on pace for a 23-goal, 82-game pro-rated season, which is quite respectable when you consider this is his first year with the team and that the Habs struggle to create offence.

Keeping It Close

The Habs allowed the Capitals to score shortly after Newhook found the back of the net. Despite criticizing his play earlier in the recap, I do have to admit that Allen did much better in the second and third periods. The Capitals held the edge in scoring chances, and Canadiens defencemen had a very hard time clearing the front of the net.

Montreal did close the gap midway through the period when Suzuki scored his 20th goal of the season, marking the third year in a row that the captain hit the 20-goal mark.

The goal featured good puck movement on the powerplay, something that’s become a relatively regular occurrence of late.

Slafkovsky and Mike Matheson assisted on the play, but the most entertaining aspect was Caufield’s reaction to his good buddy scoring a powerplay goal.

It wasn’t enough to keep the Capitals at bay, as Aliaksei Protas scored less than two minutes later. The Canadiens put up a yeoman’s effort in an attempt to tie the game, but they could not fool Darcy Kuemper for a fourth time.

The Montreal Canadiens are back in action on Wednesday. They will face the Buffalo Sabres at the Bell Centre. The puck drop is scheduled for 7 pm ET.

All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted. Via Natural Stat Trick.