Nothing gold can stay, and after a 9-game winning streak Lokomotiv Yaroslavl certainly proved this to be true, dropping three straight games.
First, the offensively challenged Lev Prague put up their best performance of the season and dismantled the Russian squad by an astounding 7-3 score. Two nights later, Prague’s expansion sister, Slovan Bratislava, defeated Lokomotiv 3-2, and handed Yaroslavl their first two game losing streak since mid-September. Things didn’t get any better for Loko on Wednesday. They fell at home to a surging Ak Bars Kazan team who scored the game winning goal with just 68 seconds left on the clock to take three big regulation points.
But, the week ended with some good news for the Lokomotiv faithful. After falling behind 2-0 to Salavat Yulaev, they responded with three goals in the second period to get back to their winning ways with a 3-2 victory. In spite of the hiccup, they still lead the Tarasov division with 61 points.
Staying with the West, the oddest news this week was the firing of SKA St. Petersburg head coach Milos Riha. Riha was relieved of his duties on Sunday night, following SKA’s 4-3 win over Vityaz Chekhov.
Now, a coach being fired at this point in the season isn’t odd. What makes this unique was the fact that, with the win, St. Petersburg overtook Dynamo Moscow for top-spot in the entire KHL. They fired their head coach after attaining first place.
The club released a statement saying that Riha was not meeting the goals of the club, which makes me think that SKA’s board of directors is composed entirely of Tiger Moms. Sure you’re at the top of the class, but you didn’t do it fast enough. It’s like putting down the leading horse halfway through the race.
When I heard the news, and subsequently the reasons given, I smelt a rat. And I was not alone. Rumors surfaced about internal conflict between the coach and his players (see: Kovalchuk), but these were vehemently denied.
I can then only assume that Ernst Stavro Blofeld is calling the shots in St. Petes. “You stole the doomsday device, true. But you also let Bond get away. This organization does not tolerate failure of any kind!”
You have to think that new head coach Jukka Jalonen should at least be a little bit worried about a shark tank trap door being installed behind the bench…
In an interesting turn of events, SKA has dropped two straight games since firing Riha, including a 6-1 drubbing by the lowly Spartak Moscow on Friday night.
Heading over to the Eastern Conference, Avangard Omsk closed out the week atop the standings. They took a beautiful shot-for-shot match against Traktor on Sunday afternoon and haven’t looked back since. They are currently riding a 5-game winning streak, have won an impressive 11 of their last 12 games, and opened up an 11 point lead in the Chernyshev division.
In the Kharlamov division, Traktor Chelyabinsk (60 points), Ak Bars Kazan (60 points), and Metallurg Magnitogorsk (57 points) are all involved in a three-horse race for the division crown. None of the three have been able to sustain momentum for very long, allowing for a great deal of leapfrogging in the division standings.
Of the three, Metallurg is having the most difficult time, as their post-International break woes continue. Since the early November break, Magnitka have played in eight games, but have only managed to win twice. Four of those losses have come in overtime or shootout, while the other two were one goal games. In spite of having two of the league’s top three scorers – Sergei Mozyakin and Evgeni Malkin – Metallurg isn’t doing enough to win games in regulation.
Finally, this was the week that I realized Traktor Chelyabinsk’s Andrei Kostitsyn looks a hell of a lot like American comedian Ike Barinholtz. Even worse, compare Kostitsyn giving an interview and Barinholtz playing a Russian athlete on Eastbound & Down and there’s some serious argument to be made for the theory that Ike Barinholtz may in fact be the long lost third Kostitsyn brother.