The Montreal Canadiens are set for battle tonight at the Bell Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it will kickstart the 2024 chapter of the rivalry that’s run for 100+ years. A team that was more skilled than tough, used the offseason to address that issue. In doing so they brought in league heavyweight Ryan Reaves, and two pesky second-generation players, Tyler Bertuzzi (Todd’s nephew) and Max Domi, whose father needs no introduction to Habs fans.
Ahead of the game tonight, Xhekaj was asked about the game tonight, and more specifically the prospect of playing against Reaves. I have written at length about the two, and how I think they will likely have a couple of fights throughout this season. And Xhekaj’s comments support his belief in himself ahead of the matchup, while he was coy about what might transpire.
Two questions that could be answered tonight are – will Reaves look to assert himself physically right away or will he wait? – and how did Xhekaj’s shoulder heal?
I think we will see fireworks early, and if the two combatants don’t fight, at least once I will be very surprised. Reaves loves to bait and challenge players to drop the gloves with him, and he is aware of the history between the Canadiens & Leafs. Xhekaj is also a willing participant, and when asked about whether his injury will encourage him to pick his battles this season, he emphasized that the team comes first, and he won’t accept his teammates being bullied.
The roof could very well blow right off of the arena tonight, and that is exactly where Xhekaj will show why he belongs in the lineup since he provides something that nobody else does on the defence. Reaves, meanwhile will be there to insulate Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and John Tavares, and push them past their playoff plateau. Both, are aware of one another, and this potential scrap will have everyone’s attention.
As I discussed in an article about Georges Laraque’s top five fighters, Xhekaj is number one and Reaves was ranked number two. Not that they are paying attention to any list or ranking, but they are trusted to protect the team, and that is exactly what they will do. The fact that one of the best to ever drop the gloves has the two of them ranked one and two, tells you all you need to know about how a potential bout might look.
With an underwhelming lineup for the Habs, all eyes will likely shift to the two tough guys, and you don’t want to miss it. So tune in to the game, with puck drop set for 7 p.m. And keep an eye on A Winning Habit for all your Habs news.
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