After the Montreal Canadiens beat the Arizona Coyotes, I took the opportunity to talk about the new sheriff in town. We saw him dominate a far more experienced NHL fighter, and put an exclamation point on a dominant win for his team.
Though the Habs fell short against the Dallas Stars, we once again saw the impact of Arber Xhekaj, but this time in a completely different light.
He scored his first NHL goal in an ill-fated comeback bid, moving well at the blue line to create a shooting lane before firing a quick shot through traffic.
Arber Xhekaj, the sheriff, scores his first NHL goal with a snap shot from the point. pic.twitter.com/KIvffTH6Vi— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) October 23, 2022
And that goal was his second point of the night, after he set up the first goal for his team with a sublime saucer pass while joining in on the rush.
Arber Xhekaj can beat the brakes off everyone on the other bench, and also deliver SAUCE like this. pic.twitter.com/zCxJTctAwZ— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) October 23, 2022
Regardless of the end result, this was his best game in a Canadiens uniform. His biggest struggle so far has been in limiting high-danger scoring chances against, and he finished Saturday night with 55.56% HDCF at even-strength according to natural stat trick, on a night where the team as a whole stood at 37.04%. A big part of that was thanks to him taking some chances, and joining the rush like he did on that Mike Hoffman goal.
He seems to be getting better, and more comfortable at the NHL level with every passing game. With him, Kaiden Guhle, and Jordan Harris eating big minutes every night, this is the beginning of a new era on the Montreal blue line. Xhekaj may be the lone rookie of the undrafted variety, but he’s proving that scouts can sometimes miss the forest for the trees.
That is no knock against Harris or Guhle, but it was Xhekaj who found the score sheet on Saturday, and also managed to maintain his physical intimidation without removing his gloves.
X gon' give it to ya. pic.twitter.com/QykL8xYocw— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) October 23, 2022
I’ve opined before that it will be tough to take Xhekaj out of the lineup even once the blue line is at full health. By the time that happens — with him continuing to improve on a nightly basis — he may make himself a lock for a spot regardless of who is available.
Click the play button below to listen to your full Bottom Six Minutes, also available on your podcast platform of choice. We’ve got two days off before our next action, as the Habs will host the Minnesota Wild this coming Tuesday at the Bell Centre.