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Arber Xhekaj and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard will force the Canadiens to make decisions

What’s next? What do you think of the Canadiens since the holidays?

There have certainly been ups and downs. The Habs lost all three of their games between Christmas and New Year’s Day, but they didn’t always look bad. It wasn’t all doom and gloom on the 31st, against the Lightning.

Then, since 2023 became 2024, the Habs have beaten the Stars and Rangers… but also collapsed against the Sabres.

I don’t know to what extent you’ve noticed, but the games where the Habs have looked the best are those where a certain Samuel Montembeault was in front of the Habs cage.

The man many saw in Trois-Rivières played against the Lightning, Stars and Rangers. The game against the Rangers was so good for the Quebecer that Martin St-Louis even praised him publicly.

Doesn’t happen often, that.

If the Habs want to keep winning games, sending the Quebecer in front of the net is becoming more and more imperative. There are other goalies to play, though.

But to keep winning games, the Habs will also have to find the right formula among their skaters.

After all, circumstances will eventually dictate that the Habs will have to make lineup changes. And that could happen sooner than we think.

Why might that be? Not least because Quebec’s Rafaël Harvey-Pinard is progressing well. We saw him skating with the others on Saturday morning, and he’s nearing a return to action.

Will he play on Wednesday against the Flyers? It’s still early to say.

If he does return, the Canadiens will probably send Emil Heineman to Laval. Heineman has been urgently recalled, and as soon as a forward is able to leave the injured list, expect the European to bail out.

That’s the “easy” part of the equation. But there’s also the question of where RHP will play. Looking at Saturday’s lineup, you have to wonder where the Habs could fit him in.

Don’t expect him to displace Juraj Slafkovsky from the top line, but for the rest, there’s bound to be a decision to make with the man who hasn’t scored in 13 games this season.

I don’t see him on the fourth line, but maybe Joel Armia will be promoted by the coach if RHP returns and Heineman leaves. I have a feeling he’d take Heineman’s place on the third line, but who knows.

That’s a decision the Habs will be forced to make. After all, if a guy leaves the injured list, it forces the Habs to make a move. Remember that Tanner Pearson has also started skating again

But we must also consider a decision that the Habs are not obliged to make under the rules, but which is becoming more and more of an issue: holding the good Arber Xhekaj.

We know that the Habs don’t intend to keep the Sheriff down all season. We also know that WiFi, in addition to helping Logan Mailloux develop, is also picking up steam. He’s bringing sandpaper downstairs, and that’s important.

But does the Habs need that sandpaper too?

We know Montreal fans want him. We know that his teammates are behind him, too, having gotten to know him (and appreciate him) over the past year and a half.

But there’s no rush.

In fact, right now, the Habs have eight defensemen in town. Two of them (David Savard and Mike Matheson) are veterans. Two of them (Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron) have their ups and downs, but are important. Two of them (Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble) are playing well.

And two of them (Johnathan Kovacevic and Gustav Lindstrom) aren’t playing these days.

In Kovacevic’s case, the Habs don’t want to lose him for nothing. Even though he’s slowed down lately, he’s still an important part of Stéphane Robidas’ defense.

As for Lindstrom, he’s a depth player who hasn’t played since December 9, but the Habs clearly don’t want to lose him. Otherwise, he’d have gone to the waivers first, wouldn’t he?

It’s all very well to say that players make decisions for management the way they play, but there’s nothing Xhekaj can do about it right now. The priority is not to bring back a defenseman (what’s the point of bringing Xhekaj back to bencher him?) and we wonder if that will change without a trade or an injury.

Until the Habs make a decision, Xhekaj can simply continue to be the rainmaker in Laval with teammate Logan Mailloux, who will also want a taste of the NHL one day.

Remember that all the depth on the blue line could be amplified if David Reinbacher, Lane Hutson and/or Adam Engstrom were to come and finish their season in Quebec in a few months’ time.

This is already having an effect in Laval, where Nicolas Beaudin would welcome a change of scenery to get more playing time.

In bursts

– All the same.

– Too much.

– The Dodgers have signed Teoscar Hernandez. They want to win.

– The Jets, Canada’s team[BPM Sports].

– Calling all interested parties.

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