Insult was added to injury for the Montreal Canadiens when defenseman Arber Xhekaj left Thursday’s 6-5 defeat against the Vegas Golden Knights with an upper-body issue.
The 22-year-old Xhekaj, second on Montreal in hits and atop the NHL’s penalty minutes charts, found himself on the receiving end of a big check when towering Russian forward Ivan Barbashev bodied him into the boards during the second period. He did not return to the contest.
The shoulder-to-shoulder collision ended an effective night for ‘Wifi,’ who notched a +3 rating and a pair of hits in just over 10 minutes of ice time. The Knights, spurred on by Barbashev’s physicality, would erase deficits of 3-1 and 4-3 en route to winning an enthralling road contest.
Jack Eichel and Mark Stone cashed in to extend the Vegas’ lead to 6-4 during Brendan Gallagher’s late-game double minor, but a Justin Barron laser in the final minute set up a furious finish. The Stanley Cup champions held on to drop Montreal’s home record to 5-6.
The Habs will limp out of their winless three-game homestand and into the lions’ den that is TD Garden, where they will write the latest chapter of their storied rivalry with the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis will hope Xhekaj is available for the tilt against the Eastern Conference-leading B’s. The defenseman’s physicality is especially suited to the sort of emotional contests that usually happen when Boston and Montreal clash.