After a ten day break for the Karjala Cup, the KHL returned to action on Wednesday night. A short week on the ice brings with it a short report, but here’s what you may have missed from the ice Wednesday to Saturday:
Lev Prague debuted their new head coach Vaclav Sykora Wednesday night against Torpedo in Nizhny. It was also the debut of soon-to-be Calgary Flame Roman Červenka, who picked up an assist in his first game in the red and blue.
Coming into the game, Lev had been struggling offensively, but managed to hang on for a 3-2 victory. Tomas Popperle kept the KHL’s second and third best goal scorers, Mikhail Varnakov and Martin Thornberg, from beating him and stopped 24 of 26 shots on route to the win.
As well, Prague’s leading scorer Jakub Klepis added a goal and an assist, the newly returned Jakub Voraček had two helpers, and Big Bad Chara did what he does best, firing an absolute rocket through Vitaly Koval for a powerplay goal.
It took extra time, but Dynamo Moscow maintained their lead atop the KHL standings with a 4-3 overtime win over Vityaz Chekhov. Alexander Ovechkin finally returned to the lineup after missing the previous 3 games with bronchitis and had two assists, both on goals by Washington teammate Niklas Backstrom.
Speaking of Backstrom, he must have heeded the call, because he debuted a new number on Wednesday night, switching his jersey from the eternally holy #99 to the hilariously juvenile #69. The hockey gods responded in turn by rewarding Backstrom with a hat trick, including the overtime winner. The Swede scored his third of the night on a very Gretzky-like effort that began behind the Vityaz goal.
A battle between two great teams in the East saw Avangard Omsk defeat Metallurg Magnitogorsk in overtime. The KHL’s leading goal scorer Sergei Mozyakin potted his 14th of the season for Metallurg, but it wasn’t enough. Kirill Lyamin got to play the part of OT hero, finishing a nice passing play by going roof on Ari Ahonen for just his second of the year.
Mozyakin may have tried to close the gap on Radulov in the scoring race, but Alex answered right back by nabbing the game winning goal, adding an assist on the insurance marker, and helping CSKA Moscow to an easy 2-0 victory over the brutal Atlant. The loss was Atlant’s tenth straight.
SKA stomped Dinamo Minsk 4-1 on Wednesday. While on the powerplay, Vladimir Tarasenko fed a gorgeous pass to Viktor Tikhonov in a moment that’s worth watching in slow motion. The young Tarasenko now has an impressive 21 points in 15 games.
There was only one game on Thursday night and, with all due respect to the two teams, it was of little consequence around the league. Metallurg Novokuznetsk defeated Amur 4-2.
Avangard faced off against Traktor on Friday, looking to close the gap on Traktor’s lead atop the Eastern Conference. However, the boys from Omsk came up short, falling 4-3 in a shootout. Another youngster, Evgeny Kuznetsov was money in the shootout, closing out the night for his team, but it was Vladimir Antipov who surely had the highlight of the night with this beauty. Antipov cut through the Omsk defenders like they were butter and, after scoring, was given a face full of post, courtesy of a Vladimir Pervushin charge. Some people just can’t appreciate a nice move.
Atlant set a KHL record for futility on Friday, losing their 11th straight match. Jaroslav Janus and Slovan Bratislava shut out Atlant 2-0, the second straight game that Atlant had failed to score.
Lokomotiv extended their winning ways to 7 straight, with a 2-1 overtime win over Lev Prague on Friday night. Alexander Chernikov tied the game with 5 minutes to go, and Staffan Kronwall needed just thirty seconds and a single shot to end the game in overtime. Curtis Sanford made 34 saves for the win, and hopefully the Lions were taking notes on how great teams find a way to win games, even when things aren’t going their way for most of the match.
Speaking of good teams digging deep for the victory, St. Petersburg mounted a massive comeback against Vityaz Chekhov on Friday. Down 2-0 to start the game, SKA tied the match with under ten to go, and then Ilya Kovalchuk scored the game winner with only 44 seconds left on the clock. The goal was Kovalchuck’s 10th, propels him to third in league scoring, and allowed his club a chance to catch Dynamo Moscow at the top of the KHL standings. SKA currently sits one point back of Dynamo with one game in hand.
This was aided by the fact that Ovechkin and company were upset on Friday night by Severstal Cherepovets. It was a game full of pretty goals. 20-year old Ignat Zemchenko gave his club a 2-0 advantage when scored a beauty off a perfect pass from Nikolai Kazakovtsev. Not to be outdone, Alexander Ovechkin showed us that he can thread the needle as well, and two minutes later fed Richard Gynge with an even nicer pass for a goal. Dynamo would tie the game early in the third period, but Severstal pulled away, with goals from Evgeny Ketov and another score from the young Ukranian Zemchenko – this time on the penalty shot – to seal the deal for the home team.
Yugra handed Metallurg Magnitogorsk their 2nd straight loss. Magnitka, who were soaring before the break, is now 0-2 since returning, though both games have been on the road and they are a much better team at home.
For the second game, Sergei Mozyakin scored a powerplay goal for his club but lost the game. Credit should also be given to Yugra goalie Edgars Masalskis for holding strong at the end of the game, especially as Metallurg threw everything they had at him.
CSKA Moscow won again on Friday, dismantling Torpedo by a score of 6-1. Pavel Datsyuk had a three assist night and Alexander Radulov was offensive dynamite yet again, opening the scoring with two powerplay goals 36 seconds apart.
The powerplay came from a major penalty to Ruslan Zainullin for a knee on Andrei Sergeyev. Zainullin was given 5 and a game.
Impressively, the last time that Alexander Radulov wasn’t involved in the game winning goal for CSKA was on October 13th against Neftekhimik. Since then, his team has played ten games and won eight of them. In that time, Radulov has four game winning goals and assisted on the other four game winners.
He is cooking. Though he could tone it down on the increasingly Terrell Owens-ey nature of his goal celebrations. Skating past centre, doing the machine gun stick, and jawing the crowd? Joe Sakic would never pull that kind of crap.
While the Red Army is looking good lately, they still remain three points behind equally strong Lokomotiv Yaroslavl for the Tarasov division lead.
Again, there was only a single match to start the weekend and it was Sibir’s first since November 1. They certainly didn’t show any rust to start the game, scoring the first two goals of the game. The break may have caught up to them a bit in the second though, as Amur tied the game at 2 in the second period. In the third, Jori Lehtera potted his second goal of the night. It turned out to the game winner, as Sibir defeated Amur 3-2. Lehtera leads his team in scoring with 26 points in 25 games.
Odds and Ends
The Western Conference really is turning into a four team race. SKA St. Petersburg and Dynamo Moscow are running away with the Bobrov division, while CSKA Moscow and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl have substantial leads on the rest of the Tarasov division. It sure does set up some potential great races for division crowns at the end of the season.
In spite of having a productive season with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, Leo Komarov is attempting to return to the KHL. The Finn wasn’t satisfied with the farm club and is likely looking to suit up with his former club Dynamo Moscow, a group he won a Gagarin Cup with last spring. I’m upset I won’t see him in the blue and white of Toronto, but kind of excited to see him in the blue and white of Dynamo out here.
Evander Kane has had a terrible season with Dinamo Minsk and both sides finally cut the cord on Friday, announcing that Kane would be leaving the KHL. I don’t anticipate that the Winnipeg Jet will be coming to play in Russia anytime soon, and he may have nightmares about his time in Belarus for a while.
It was also announced this week that the KHL’s master plan is to one day expand into the Asia, with teams in China, South Korea, and Japan. While it’s still years away, what amazing potential that would have to expand the popularity of the greatest game in the world in new regions.