Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: September 27th, 2015
Lots going on in the Russian hockey world this week, on and off the ice! Read on, therefore and without further ado, for KHL expansion, players changing teams, thrilling comeback victories, and other such things…
There was a major hockey-related legal development this past week in Yaroslavl, when former airline executive Vadim Timofeyev was sentenced for his part in the Lokomotiv air disaster in September, 2011. Timofeyev, the second-in-command of the Yak Servis airline when the crash occurred, had been found guilty of allowing his pilots to fly without being properly qualified for the aircraft in question. The prosecution asked for a sentence of six years; however, relatives of the crash victims were not convinced of Timofeyev’s responsibility despite the guilty verdict, and were seeking to have him freed.
In the end, the court accomodated both sides. Timofeyev was sentenced on Wednesday to five years in prison, but was immediately released as part of an amnesty program celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Timofeyev has said that he will appeal his conviction.
We got another “ping” on the KHL expansion radar this past week, when the league’s Vice-President of Hockey Operations, Georgy Kobylyansky, stated in an interview with the Medveščak Zagreb website stated that the league is negotiating with an un-named Swedish club. This is in addition to the KHL’s already-stated intention to expand to China in the near future. There has been, of course, rampant speculation about which Swedish team is being courted, and also about whether the Swedish hockey authorities would be willing to see it depart for the KHL. We await further details on this one.
(I encourage you, by the way, to go and read that interview, as Kobylyansky makes some other interesting comments, including bringing up the possibility that Amur Khabarovsk and Admiral Vladivostok will play some games in China or South Korea this season. Thanks to Locria on twitter for the heads-up on this one!)
About halfway through Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Admiral Vladivostok, Lokomotiv goalie Alexei Murygin broke the KHL record for the longest shutout streak. Murygin has now kept his net empty for 266:10; that bests the old mark of 237:33 set by Curtis Sanford, also while playing for Lokomotiv. Murygin now leads the KHL in save percentage (.972), goals against average (0.58), and shutouts (5). In a way, the five shutouts represent the most impressive feat of the bunch; Murygin has split time in the Lokomotiv goal this season with Vitaly Kolesnik, and so has played only seven games. Expect Murygin to get the lion’s share of the starts for the next while, however!
And do not sleep on Lokomotiv. Six straight regulation wins, over the course of which they have been scored upon exactly one time, have the railwaymen at 27 points from 15 games and sitting in third place in the West Conference.
Ilya Kovalchuk is back! The SKA St. Petersburg captain missed three weeks with a leg injury, but was back in the lineup on Monday to face Dynamo in Moscow. There appears to be a little bit of rust for Kovalchuk, understandably enough; he has now played three games since his return, scoring a goal but going -2 over that span.
Rust or no, getting Kovalchuk back could not have happened at a better time for SKA. The defending Gagarin Cup champions stumbled through September, and were down at the bottom end of the playoff teams in the West Conference. And this week was a nasty one for them on the schedule; in addition to the Dynamo game, SKA were slated to face CSKA Moscow and Jokerit Helsinki, two teams involved in the struggle for top spot in the KHL. Well, mission more or less accomplished. Although SKA lost to Dynamo, 3-2, they beat CSKA by a 2-1 score and then returned home to trounce Jokerit 6-3. The St. Petersburg men are now up to sixth in the West, only five points back of the top spot, and coach Andrei Nazarov has heard the rumours about his job security fade away at least for the moment.
Sadly, for Erlan Sagymbaev at Barys Astana, the rumours about his position did not fade away fast enough. With his team struggling outside the playoff picture in the East Conference, Sagymbaev was shown the door with this week, and assistant coach Raimo Helminen was also let go. Sagymbaev is the second coaching casualty of 2015-16, after Sergei Svetlov was fired by Lada last week.
It really has been a disappointing season for Barys so far, with a record of 5-9 and ninth spot in the East. Injuries have not helped — they desperately miss forward Dustin Boyd — but even so, Barys should on paper be well above where they are now.
Yevgeny Koreshkov, another of the assistants at Barys, is the interim head coach, and his players gave him a nice present for his first game in charge. The Leopards strolled into Omsk, to take on conference-leading Avangard, on Friday, and a few hours later they strolled out again with three points in their pocket thanks to an impressive 4-2 victory. There remains much work to be done, but that is a hopeful sign.
Jokerit have had a magnificent season so far; as of Thursday they had a 9-2 record, bolstered by the scoring of Brandon Kozun and the otherworldly puck-stopping of both Henrik Karlsson and Riku Helenius. However, the end of the week saw them vulnerable for the first time in 2015-16. We have already noted their 6-3 loss to SKA on Friday, and Jokerit followed that up with a similar humbling by CSKA on Sunday, this time by a 5-2 score (Alexander Radulov rubbed salt into the wound by scoring a goal and two assists to move past Kozun into the KHL scoring lead). That makes 11 goals given up in two games, for a team that had only conceded 13 in the season’s first 11 contests.
A crisis? No, not really. Jokerit are still very good, those losses came against powerful teams, and nobody gets through the entire season without a few hiccups along the way. Nonetheless, the boys from Helsinki will want to get out of this slump as quickly they can. In this, the schedule-makers have handed them an interesting opportunity, if a tricky one; Jokerit’s next two games are at home, against… SKA (Oct. 1) and CSKA (Oct. 4).
The award for Most Exciting Week has to go to Sibir Novosibirsk, who played a couple of real thrillers in the last few days. On Friday, the Siberians let Ak Bars Kazan get out to a two-goal lead twice, before tying things up midway through the third period. Then, with a couple of minutes left in overtime, Maxim Ignatovich fired Sibir’s winner past the desperate dive of Emil Garipov in the Ak Bars net (highlights of the game are below). Sunday’s match, which saw Lada Tolyatti visiting Novosibirsk, was even crazier. Once again, Sibir’s opponents took a two-goal lead, and once again the hosts tied it up by the middle of the third period. The last seven minutes of regulation time, then, saw Lada take the lead twice, only for Sibir to respond both times. No overtime heroics in this one; it went to the dreaded shootout, where Sibir scored on all three of their opportunities, snatching an unlikely victory for the second straight game.
Czech forward Tomáš Vincour was the big hero for Sibir in the two games. The former Edmonton Oil King, who saw NHL time with Dallas and Colorado, had only two assists in six games coming into the week. However, he scored three goals and added another helper against Ak Bars and Lada; Sibir fans will be hoping that that represents a breakout for him.
Of note: another, current, Dallas Stars prospect, 18-year-old Denis Guryanov, scored his first KHL goal for Lada in Sunday’s game against Sibir.
International hockey! With the Women’s Hockey League on a break, the Russian women’s national team was in action this week, playing three exhibition games in Novogorsk against Japan. So far, the Russians are perfect in the series, winning 3-1, 2-1, and 4-2. The teams play again on Tuesday, after which the Russian women will head to Germany for games against that country’s national squad.
Olga Sosina of Agidel Ufa and Tornado Moscow Oblast’s Alevtina Shtaryova have each scored twice for the Russians against Japan so far. The series has also seen the return to international play of goalie Anna Prugova (picture at the beginning of the article) who missed a large chunk of last season through injury. Prugova played the first and third games of the set, and earned Player of the Game honours in the opener.
In men’s international hockey, it appears that Russia, already the host country for the 2016 IIHF World Championship, is considering a bid to put on the World Cup in 2020. The World Cup tournament, the descendent of the old Canada Cup, was last played in 2004, but it returns to the international calendar next year with Toronto as the host city. We will discuss it more in these pages as it approaches.
We still do not have any official word on where Vyacheslav Voynov will continue his career, but the betting favourite is SKA St. Petersburg. The rights to the former Los Angeles Kings defenseman, who “self-deported” from the U.S.A. after serving jail time for assaulting his spouse Marta Varlamova, are currently held by Traktor Chelyabinsk, but it is unlikely that they can afford to sign him. Rumours now suggest that a “players plus money” deal is on the way from the St. Petersburg team. Aivis Kalniņš has the details at Better Live Than Dead, and I encourage you to follow that link for the full update.
There were a couple of interesting player moves that did become official in the KHL this week. Latvian forward Kaspars Daugaviņš, whom Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins fans will remember, had his contract annulled by Dynamo Moscow after he posted four points in the season’s first eight games (it did not help that he was -5 through that stretch). He has now signed on with Amur Khabarvosk. This has the potential to be a great acquisition by the far-easterners; Daugaviņš led Dynamo in goals and points in 2014-15 (56 gp, 22-15-37). Amur definitely could use the scoring help, as the team’s 23 goals for in 14 games has them tied with Traktor for worst in the KHL. Daugaviņš was not in the lineup for Amur on Sunday, as they eked out a 1-0 win over HK Sochi, but should join his new squad later this week.
UPDATE: Amur have now traded Daugaviņš to Torpedo in return for defensemen Nikita Tserenok and Yevgeny Belokhvostikov.
Another twist in the saga of the Kostitsyn brothers! With the current controversy over the status of Belarusan KHLers, it has long been obvious that either Sergei or Andrei would be leaving Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, where they had both signed contracts this summer. For awhile it appeared that Sergei, the younger of the two at 28 years old, would be the one to go, especially after there emerged reports that he would attend training camp with the Calgary Flames. This did not occur, and now it is the 30-year-old Andrei who is on his way out. He, along with fellow-forward Denis Tolpeko, had his contract cancelled by Torpedo this past week, and is now a free agent. Potential destinations likely include Dinamo Minsk, but we will have to wait and see.
Neither Andrei (9 gp, 0-2-2) nor Sergei (10 gp, 2-1-3) have really shown what they can do in terms of scoring so far this season, although there is still time for that to turn around.
Finally, and speaking of players from Belarus, a name familiar to KHL fans is back in the league, as veteran goalie Vitaly Koval has signed a contract with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Koval will come in as backup to Alexander Sudnitsin, replacing the injured Ville Kolppanen (Koppanen is out for the season). There are some big shoes to be filled in the Neftekhimik net this season; the team has gotten excellent netminding from both Sudnitsin (.941 sv%, 5th-best in the KHL) and Kolppanen (.939 in four games), and that has the fans dreaming of a first playoff appearance since the 2012-13 season.
Koval, 35 years old now, spent last season as the backup netminder for Salavat Yulaev Ufa, posting a respectable .934 sv% in 11 games (injury limited his playing time to a certain degree). Prior to that, he had KHL stints with Dinamo Minsk, Atlant, and Torpedo.
Time to check in with the little team of players we are tracking here at the blog this season!
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 13 gp, 1.94 GAA, .931 sv%. A great week for Metsola, who knocked 0.4 off his GAA and added .013 to his save percentage. He has given up only three goals in his last four starts.
D Ziyat Paigin (Ak Bars Kazan): 8 gp, 0-1-1, +2, 2 PiM, 7:55 TOI/gm. Another week in the VHL with Bars Kazan for Paigin. He had a great game on Monday, scoring a goal and assist, and is now 6 gp, 1-2-3, -4 in the second league, where he is averaging 21:34 TOI/gm and seeing some powerplay time.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 12 gp, 3-4-7, +8, 4 PiM, 20:18 TOI/gm. Just a lone assist in two games for Zaitsev this week, although that +/- number is starting to look very pretty indeed.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 12 gp, 1-0-1, -3, 4 PiM, 14:57 TOI/gm. Three games without a point, after he finally scored his first goal a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, I think we have to start wondering how much longer Palola will be a Vityaz player.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 12 gp, 4-4-8, +4, 6 PiM, 16:06 TOI/gm. No points for Prokhorkin this week, but his team played only a single game, losing it 4-1 to Amur. They are back in action on Monday in Moscow against Dynamo.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 12 gp, 6-8-14, +3, 0 PiM: 21:38 TOI/gm. A similar week to Prokhorkin’s, with no points from a single game (Metallurg were shut out by Admiral in that one). Mozyakin has slipped a bit in the KHL scoring race (he is now alone in sixth place), but has a chance to get going again versus Vityaz on Monday.
No poll this week, simply because I couldn’t think of a question. There will be a new one next Sunday though, in the first October installment of the weekly news notes. In the meantime, we’ll talk KHL attendance at some point in the next few days!