The Montreal Canadiens dominated the Edmonton Oilers at even strength on Saturday night, but found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Their penalty killing — or lack thereof — was a big reason for the loss, but there was a lot to like from that game outside of the final score.
One of those things was the performance of rookie defenseman Arber Xhekaj, who I’d argue should remain in the lineup over others moving forward.
True though it may be that he took a costly tripping penalty at the end of the first period, he was very effective in his return to the lineup. He had a very positive impact from a possession standpoint, and brought some of his trademarked physicality for good measure.
He also served as a contributor to a surprising Habs powerplay, which scored two goals on three chances. It has been some time since we’ve seen them enjoy such a success rate with the man-advantage, and his slick wrister in the second was a big part of said success.
He seems to get better by the game, by the shift, and by the minute. On Saturday, the team controlled 72.73% of even-strength shot attempts while he was on the ice, a mark eclipsed only by Mike Matheson among Habs blueliners. Xhekaj was not only brutal to play against from a physical standpoint, he helped tilt the ice in favour of his team.
Perhaps Joel Edmundson needs a night off, unless of course he’s not already to be suspended for his cross-check on Zach Hyman in the second period. I would venture to guess that most fans of the team would rather see what Xhekaj can bring to the table during the western road swing, given how Edmundson has played since returning.
If not Edmundson, pick another name, because Xhekaj isn’t one who should be riding the pine when this road trip hits Vancouver.
Click the play button below to listen to your full Bottom Six Minutes, also available wherever you get your podcasts. Up next, the Canadiens will head to the west coast, starting with a late game on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks.