Ryan Reaves wants rematch with Xhekaj in next Maple Leafs meeting with Canadiens

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Ryan Reaves has taken Arber Xhekaj’s number. 

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Now, the Maple Leafs winger will have to bide his time before going up against the Montreal Canadiens defenceman again.

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The Leafs and Canadiens don’t meet until March 9 in Montreal, but Reaves will be ready after he and Xhekaj fought in the regular-season opener on Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena.

Following a couple of big Reaves hits on Jesse Ylonen and Kaiden Guhle, Xhekaj dropped his gloves and went after Reaves behind the Montreal net midway through the first period.

By the time the fight was over, Xhekaj had pushed Reaves into the back of the net, sending the player and the cage toppling to the ice. 

Does Reaves want a rematch with Xhekaj?

“I mean, yeah,” Reaves said after the Leafs practised on Friday at the Ford Performance Centre. “I don’t like getting jumped.

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“I don’t know if I’ve ever really jumped anybody. If you want to fight, just ask me. I’m always around. You know where to find me.”

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Xhekaj received a minor and a 10-minute misconduct for instigating as well as a five-minute fighting major. Reaves was assessed a fighting major. 

Reaves wasn’t keen on how the fight ended, with him falling onto the back of the net.

“I don’t know if he did it on purpose to end it,” Reaves said. “Once I stood up, he grabbed me and tried pushing me for the rest of the way. We got them two more times, I’m sure something might happen. Don’t want to go out like that.”

The Leafs also visit the Canadiens on April 6. 

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe knew what the team was getting in Reaves when they signed him to a three-year contract on July 1. Few players in the NHL as feared are as the 36-year-old Reaves, who has more than 1,000 penalty minutes in 829 NHL games. 

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As Keefe got to work with Reaves more, other attributes began to stand out.

“His demeanor, his attitude, everything that he has brought here daily, and then his consistency in his practice habits, consistency with how he has played on the ice, I’ve been really impressed,” Keefe said.

“This is a true professional that knows his job. When I say that, I’m not referring to his role as a physical player, the fighting.

“He defensively knows his responsibilities, he has got it right pretty much every time and plays hard and smart, keeps shifts short. I’ve been really impressed with what we’ve got from Reav-o so far. I thought he was excellent in the first game the other night. I’ve been thrilled with him here and what he’s brought to our group.”

Reaves’ next chance to make an impact comes on Saturday night, when the Leafs play host to his most recent former team, the Minnesota Wild, at Scotiabank Arena. 

Keefe will use the same lineup that beat the Canadiens 6-5 in a shootout and confirmed that Ilya Samsonov will start in goal.

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