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Canadiens Postgame

Canadiens Arber Xhekaj Dominant In Hard-Fought Loss To Buffalo



The Montreal Canadiens hosted the Buffalo Sabers on Wednesday, a battle of two teams with the identical amount of points in the NHL standings.

Of course, the Sabres did not plan to miss the playoffs this year, whereas it was to be expected for the Habs.

Regardless, the Canadiens could not take their opponents lightly as they still have several high-end players in their lineup that can make you pay for a lack of defensive prowess with their above-average, bordering on elite, offensive talent.

In the end, Buffalo emerged with a 3-2 win, but the story of the game from a Montreal Canadiens point of view was yet another impressive effort from defenceman Arber Xhekaj.

Let’s dive into those highlights!

A Quick Note About Goaltending

As one of the best road hockey goalies to ever participate in the 1988 Pineview Invitational, which took place on Beaverpond Drive in Gloucester, Ontario, I feel more than qualified when it comes to dissecting goaltender performances in the NHL.

With that in mind, I’ll share some jaw-dropping industry secrets.

The first is that goaltending is very difficult in the best of situations.

The second is that the more you play, the more comfortable you feel.

The third is that goaltenders have a very hard time getting over any bad goal they allow.

And the fourth is that little Paolo Santos was offside when scored the game-winning goal in the 1988 tournament. He was clearly taking a juice-box break and therefore was not eligible to be part of the play.

But to make a long story short, Paolo cheated.

And he drank the last apple juice, leaving me with nothing but the sour taste of defeat and diet cranberry juice in my mouth.

Oh, and another thing.

When it comes to serving as a goaltender in the NHL, the only way to maintain consistency is by getting consistent usage, which certainly has not been the case for Cayden Primeau, Jake Allen, and Samuel Montembeault. It’s an impossibly difficult proposal for any athlete, let alone an NHL goaltender.

It’s one of the main reasons I’ve tried to avoid heavy criticism of the trio.

Montembeault, the Canadiens’ defacto starter, had only started three games in February prior to his start against the Buffalo Sabres.

Ipso facto, we’re not going to worry much if the opposition scores after being given too much time to deflect a point shot, or if they score because a Canadiens player was running interference on his own goalie, as was the case for the first two goals against.

Xhekaj Factor

Those of you who follow my recaps know that I’m a fan of Arber Xhekaj’s play. And no, it’s not because he could probably drop a water buffalo with a right hook, or that he stole Zack Kassian’s soul, though that certainly adds to the entertainment factor.

It’s because this year, he’s improved his underlying numbers by leaps and bounds.

And for some reason, the narrative pushed by many is that he has struggled defensively. It’s not true, at least relative to his teammates.

He also provides a relatively healthy amount of offence with his booming point shot, as evidenced by the opening goal of the game. Full marks to Joshua Roy for his hard work on the forecheck which kept the play alive long enough for Xhekaj to score his third goal of the year.

Roy had a very good game against Buffalo and was rewarded with his first two-point effort in the NHL.

We have to remember that Xhekaj was not drafted. Hell, he’s the only defenceman in the history of the CHL to go undrafted and then immediately jump into an NHL roster.

His lack of pedigree may be the reason some are not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but we certainly should not hold the fact that he defied the odds against him.

If anything, it’s a feather in his cap and a good reminder that sometimes the so-called ‘experts’ get it wrong.

MUST READ: What I Got Wrong When Analyzing Arber Xhekaj’s NHL Potential

Some may expect more from him, but we also have to avoid looking a gift horse in the mouth. The Canadiens did not spend any draft capital acquiring Xhekaj. In terms of asset management, he’s pure profit.

And yes, Xhekaj is given third-pairing minutes, but he helps his team win in those minutes, and he does a better job in that situation than any other player in the lineup.

As for his game versus the Sabres, Xhekaj continued his solid play by bringing a much-needed physical element to the table.

Not only did he remind Casey Mittelstadt to keep his head up on a few occasions, but he also sent Zemgus Girgensons to the shadow realm with a beautiful open-ice hit.

On top of it, he led all Habs defencemen with well over 60 percent of the expected goals (xGF%) while he was on the ice.

If you can’t understand why Arber Xhekaj immediately became a fan favourite in Montreal, I fear you simply don’t understand hockey.

Confidence Boost

Xhekaj was not the only young defenceman to contribute in the offensive zone on Wednesday night. Jayden Struble also scored his third goal of the year after Peyton Krebs deflected his wrist shot from the point.

It should serve as an important confidence boost for Struble, as his play in the defensive zone has left something to be desired in the last few weeks.

To be perfectly clear, I’m not blaming Struble for struggling at times.

Everyone in the Canadiens lineup struggles at times and he has the least experience of the group. It’s perfectly normal, especially when you’re learning on the job.


This Is The Segment In Which I Will Show Jeff Skinner’s Inevitable Goal Versus The Habs

Here’s Jeff Skinner’s inevitable goal versus the Habs.



Cauf-ing Up The Puck

The Canadiens tend to allow too many shorthanded goals, pointing to a powerplay that oftentimes lacks conviction. Soft passes are a powerplay sin and on Wednesday Cole Caufield was the ultimate sinner.

On that note, Caufield looked off against the Sabres throughout the entire game. I have a sneaking suspicion he picked up a knock recently and he’s playing through the pain.


The Montreal Canadiens are back in action on Thursday. They will face the Penguins in Pittsburgh. The puck drop is scheduled for 7 pm ET.

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