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Arber Xhekaj ran into a referee: he was lucky to get away
Credit: Capture d'écran / Screenshot

Last night, the Canadiens were in Sunrise to take on the Panthers. It was a big challenge for Martin St-Louis’ men, as the Panthers are a big hockey club.

In the end, the Habs lost 4-3 in overtime , in what was an interesting game from many points of view.

And one of the points of view to analyze was Arber Xhekaj’s performance. The defender had an excellent game, which is not uncommon since he was paired with veteran David Savard.

But above all, he had a Xhekaj-like game.

The Sheriff is capable of the best and the worst, and consistency is something he needs to work on. But when he plays like he did yesterday and attempts passes like this one, it’s clear that he’s more than just a guy who hits.

But does that mean he can’t hit for all that? No, that’s not what it means.

We saw it when Evan Rodrigues ran into Samuel Montembeault. Because yes, the Panthers really do have a face-spanking identity, if you’ll pardon the expression.

The Canadiens’ goalie was knocked down by the Panthers’ player and Xhekaj was on the ice. You didn’t think he was going to let that go, did you?

He’s no Jeff Petry against the Oilers, is he?

But when we say that he had an Arber Xhekaj-like game, it’s mainly because when you watch the sequence of the Sheriff charging at Rodrigues, you see that the referee stands in front of the Panthers player, who was on the ground, to protect him.

But no matter, the WiFi went back into the arena… and it went back into the referee as he kept pushing to go explain to the Panthers player his way of thinking.

A zebra protecting a panther from a sheriff… you wouldn’t see a scene like that in the wild.

Joking aside: historically, walking into a referee is not recommended. The referee might have wanted to punish the Habs player because he wasn’t there to be pushed around.

At the same time, I imagine he understood a little why the Canadiens defender was seeing red…

Xhekaj was lucky to get away with it (not as lucky as Rodrigues, though), but it’s clear he was trying to do his job. And as Renaud Lavoie told BPM Sports this morning, we felt the Habs took a page out of the Panthers’ book by bringing some f*** you into their game.

But hey. That’s not all we need to remember about this game, which wasn’t bad in the sense that sometimes, in Sunrise, the Habs have trouble staying in the game.

So what can I take away from the game?

1. Samuel Montembeault did a great job. He kept his team in the game against an excellent team, which isn’t always easy to do when you play for the Habs.

Would he like to see the Panthers’ third goal again, the one awarded on the power play? He certainly would.

But on volume, he still did well against his former club. He made 32 saves in his second game in three nights, and he did what he had to do.

I also like to see him frustrated at the end of the game. It shows he was hungry for the win and that’s good to see.

2. How can we overlook Nick Suzuki’s performance? The captain got one goal and two assists, bringing his total to 11 goals and six assists in 11 games in February. Nothing too serious.

After being praised by Paul Maurice, who compared his team’s captain to that of the Habs, let’s just say that the Habs’ captain responded more than well on the ice.

Because apart from the points, he was once again responsible on 200 feet and showed his teammates the way. He’s doing it more and more, and that’s important for Martin St-Louis, who likes the comparison with Sasha Barkov.

He now has 59 points in 60 games. He’s seven points shy of his record (66) and still has 22 games to go… but more importantly, he’s pretty close to the point-per-game mark, right?

3. The first trio was good yesterday. Did you notice that there’s a direct correlation between Cole Caufield, Juraj Slafkovsky and Nick Suzuki having a good game and the Habs being competitive?

Both wingers got a point (a goal for Slaf and an assist for Caufield), which helped the Habs snatch a point in the standings. Like it or not, that’s the players’ goal.

4. The Habs didn’t win, but throughout the game, the guys put in an effort.

We all know that the 2023-2024 Habs don’t have what it takes to beat a club like Florida, when you take a look at their strengths. But effort doesn’t require talent.

5. For the fourth game in a row, Josh Anderson ended the game with no shots on goal against the opposing goalie. That’s not how you score goals, because you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, as the great Michael Scott Wayne Gretzky once said.

Help yourself and heaven help you.


After last night’s game, the Canadiens flew to Tampa Bay for their next game, tomorrow night against the Lightning.

The club will train at noon.

I don’t expect to have all the answers today, but I wonder what the Habs lineup will be tomorrow. Will Jayden Struble be back? Will Michael Pezzetta skip his turn again?

And who will be in front of the net?

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