The Amazing Invisible Mozyakin
We have already noted him in these pages, but it bears repeating: Sergei Mozyakin, the KHL’s all-time leading scorer, is a wonder to watch at work. The little Metallurg Magnitogorsk forward is a scorer of the crafty variety, and one of his favourite tricks involves making opposing professional ice hockey players forget that he exists for a crucial moment or two. On Friday, in Moscow against CSKA, he gave a beautiful demonstration of that talent, and it’s worth a close look.
The situation: A 1-1 tie, midway through the second period, with Metallurg in the waning seconds of a so-far fruitless powerplay (CSKA’s Stéphane Da Costa is in the penalty box, for the record). As you can see in the image above, all looks normal. Mozyakin has the puck, not in a particularly dangerous position, CSKA are in a standard penalty-kill box formation, and Metallurg’s set-up is also nothing out of the ordinary. What happens next? Read on…
So Mozyakin dishes the puck off to Chris Lee, on the opposite point. And then, with his team on the power-play, in possession of the puck, in the opponents’ end, he abandons the action and goes for a stroll out into the neutral zone, looking for all the world like a man heading off on a line change. At this moment, the two teams are playing four-on-four.
Some credit here to CSKA forward Sergei Andronov, who at least remembers to take a peek into the neutral zone. But Mozyakin, bizarrely, is far out of the play, almost behind Lee at this point, so Andronov reasonably enough focuses on tying up Viktor Antipin in the high slot. Lee, meanwhile, sends the puck ahead to Jan Kovář along the boards. On the other side of the ice, Danis Zaripov heads towards the net to see what chaos he can cause.
Kovář looks for options, but sees only low-percentage plays. He could cut in and shoot on his own, but Gennady Stolyarov and Grigory Panin will probably make his life difficult if he tries that. Antipin is nicely wrapped up by Andronov, and Zaripov is being covered by the formidable Nikita Zaitsev, one of the game’s best rear-guards. The pass back to Lee at the point is available and safe, but is unlikely to lead to anything like a scoring chance.
However, by this time the magic has happened, and not one of the CSKA defenders is thinking: “I wonder where Sergei Mozyakin got to?”
And that’s a problem, because there he is, coming right up Main Street, and Kovář finds him with the pass. Note that this is a full five seconds after Mozyakin originally departed from the scene. Note furthermore that Mozyakin, a right-handed shot, will have the puck on his right side while every single CSKA player on the ice is on his left.
Stanislav Galimov is a good goalie, and he reacts well to re-position himself, even if he is a bit deep in the net. However, Andronov cuts across his netminder’s line of sight in a desperate attempt to block Mozyakin’s shot. And Mozyakin can shoot the puck extremely hard for a man of his somewhat small stature (he’s 5’11” and weighs 185 lbs.), particularly, as is the case here, when he has his momentum taking him into the shot.
And so it was that the score became 2-1 for Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The goal stood up as the winner in the end, with the final score 3-1 after Mozyakin added another into the empty net very late in the third. Mozyakin now has 11 points in seven games, tied for the league lead.
We should, of course, watch the video clip; for one thing the pictures above do not really convey how long Mozyakin was MIA on that play, and how quickly he reappeared once the CSKA penalty-killers had forgotten about him. For another, the replay gives us another look, from a different angle, of Mozyakin’s little wander out into the neutral zone. So here it is! The video contains highlights of the entire game, but it should be cued up properly for this particular play; if it isn’t, our segment of interest begins at about the 2:33 mark.