Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: October 12th, 2015
Another week, and so another little parcel of news items from the world of Russian hockey! Below the jump, we’ll check in with the women’s league, which resumed play this week, discuss some players changing teams (or not), and take a look at a KHL goalie whose numbers this season are… remarkable. Read on!
The Russian Women’s Hockey League returned to action this week after the international break. As the standings begin to take shape, I would encourage you to circle October 23rd and 24th on the calendar; those days will see Tornado Moscow Oblast visiting Ufa to play a pair of games against Agidel. Those contests, and the return fixtures at Tornado’s rink on February 21st and 22nd next year, will likely go a long way towards deciding the title. There is also a good battle shaping up for third place between Biryusa Krasnoyarsk and Dynamo St. Petersburg; those two teams will meet for the first time, in Siberia, on the 19th and 20th of October. Of course, the potential for upsets is still very much a thing, so other teams may elbow their way into the discussion as we go along, but that is the picture right now.
Olga Sosina of Agidel has taken over the league lead in points (6 gp, 7-8-15) for the time being, although Tornado’s Anna Shokhina is right there with her (4 gp, 5-9-14).
A very quick check-in with the MHL is in order, while we’re at it. The Russian junior league is currently sitting around the 10-12 games played mark for most of its teams, and the early front-runner is Loko Yaroslavl. Lokomotiv’s youngsters have a spiffy 9-2 record, with only one regulation loss, and lead HK MVD (one of Dynamo Moscow’s junior sides) by three points in the West Conference.
The early season scoring leader hails from Tolpar Ufa, junior team of Salavat Yulaev. Nineteen-year-old forward Bulat Margamov has 11-8-19 in 12 games to lead the MHL in goals and points. His team, meanwhile, is 7-5 on the season, in fourth place in the East.
Off to the KHL now, and Vyacheslav Voynov’s trek towards becoming an SKA St. Petersburg player continues apace. The latest on the 25-year-old defenseman , who left the Los Angeles Kings and “self-deported” from the U.S. after serving time on a domestic violence conviction this summer, is that SKA have paid Traktor Chelyabinsk 200 million rubles (about 3.22 million USD) for his rights, and are looking to sign him to a four-year deal worth 4 million dollars per season. The only remaining hurdle is paperwork-related; the KHL is still awaiting his transfer card, which is in the possession of the Kings. It is expected to arrive this week.
SKA, for their part, will be hoping very much that they can get Voynov into the lineup as quickly as possible. The defending champions are once again in crisis mode, after encouraging wins against CSKA and Jokerit in late September turned out to be a false dawn. Since then, SKA have lost five of six, with the only victory in that span coming via the shootout. Monday saw a new nadir: a dismal and bad-tempered 2-1 home loss to HK Sochi, the sort of team that SKA should be brushing aside with little trouble. The result was fully deserved, too, as the Black Sea club outshot SKA 37-27 in the game.
One has to wonder how much longer the SKA top brass can keep the faith with first-year head coach Andrei Nazarov. So far, everyone is still saying encouraging things, but if the results do not improve, we will likely be hearing about changes sooner rather than later. The St. Petersburgians now sit tenth in the West, and while the last playoff spot is only a point away, the games-in-hand situation favours other teams. And who would have thought that we would be discussing, in October, how far out of the playoffs the Gagarin Cup holders are?
Lada Tolyatti, meanwhile, entered the 2015-16 season without the high expectations of SKA. Even so, their performance has been something of a disappointment — the team is currently in last place in the KHL. There may, however, be a faint light at the end of the tunnel. Lada defeated Vityaz Moscow Oblast 1-0 this past Wednesday to break a ten(!) game losing skid. Although they followed that up by getting stomped to the tune of 5-0 by Dynamo Moscow, a 2-1 victory over Slovan today means two wins from the last three. A modest improvement, to be sure, but an improvement nonetheless.
Of course, the playoffs remain a pipe-dream for Lada, and it will take a prodigious turnaround to change that. The team’s record is 4-16, and the last East Conference playoff berth is already 13 points distant.
We are dealing with a medium-small sample size, but Lokomotiv Yaroslavl goalie Alexei Murygin (see photo at top) is putting up one of the most ridiculous stat lines you will ever see. Let us examine it in some detail: through ten games played, Murygin has a save percentage of .977, and a goals against average of 0.50, leading all KHL goalies by some distance in both categories. In the last calendar month, he has guarded the twine seven times for Lokomotiv, and given up one goal. Total. In all, his ten starts this season have resulted in seven shutouts. And of course, as noted here in previous news notes, he now owns the KHL record for longest shutout streak, at a hair over 300 minutes.
And that, my friends, is a big reason why Lokomotiv Yaroslavl have nosed ahead of CSKA Moscow for top spot in the West Conference, with 41 points from 20 games. Murygin got his first taste of national team action in a couple of exhibition games last season, but on this form it won’t be his last!
One of the big stories of the KHL season so far, and we have mentioned it numerous times in these pages, has been the disastrous start of the campaign for Salavat Yulaev Ufa. The Bashkir team, whom I picked to win the East Conference before the season began (I was young and foolish), were sporting a mediocre 7-8 record on October 2nd, and were actually outside the playoff picture. A change behind the bench was to be expected, and it duly arrived; Igor Zakharkin, who was already at the club as a consultant, was appointed head coach. Zakharkin has won two Gagarin Cup rings as an assistant coach (one with Salavat Yulaev in 2011, and the other last season with SKA St. Petersburg), but his only head-coaching experience came as boss of the Polish national team from 2012 to 2014 (he did well, getting the Poles promoted to the IIHF’s division IA.
The odd thing about Zakharkin’s appointment was that the incumbent, Anatoly Yemelin, remains on the Salavat Yulaev coaching staff as the “senior” coach. It is an arrangement with all sorts of potential for awkwardness, but so far the results on the ice have been encouragine. Salavat Yulaev have won three of four since the change, and Monday’s methodical 5-1 dismantling of Jokerit, in Helsinki no less, must rank as the team’s most impressive performance of the season so far. They remain outside the playoff spots in the East, currently ranking 10th, but there is hope once again on the banks of the Belaya.
I mentioned briefly in last Monday’s post that German forward Felix Schütz had been placed on waivers by Dinamo Riga after a disappointing start to his first season in the Latvian capital. Well, there has been an interesting development in that situation. Schütz cleared waivers, and had been sent to Dinamo’s farm club in Liepaja. However, it now looks like he may be on his way back to the KHL quite soon, albeit in new colours. Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod coach Pēteris Skudra let slip this week that his team is on the verge of signing Schütz. We wait — per Aivis Kalniņš on Twitter, Schütz is currently injured, and thus cannot have his Dinamo contract cancelled. However, some sort of negotiation appears to be going on, as the player himself has indicated that he will move to Nizhny Novgorod. More bulletins as events warrant on this one.
There was some talk this past week that Edmonton Oilers defenseman Nikita Nikitin, who failed to make the NHL club out of training camp and has been assigned to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors, was in talks to cross the ocean and join hometown club Avangard Omsk. However, whether any negotiations did go on, it appears that Nikitin will be staying in North America for the time being, and working to get back to the NHL. The 29-year-old rearguard is still getting his visa situation sorted out, and has not yet played for Bakersfield.
So, between Voynov, Schütz, and Nikitin, we have two player moves that have not quite yet happened but look like they will soonish, and one that appears to be a dead letter. Are any players actually managing to change teams these days? Why yes! Not only that, there was a transfer this week involving one of the players we have been following with particular interest here at the blog. Twenty-year-old defenseman Ziyat Paigin, a late-round pick of the Oilers in this summer’s NHL draft, has been traded by Ak Bars Kazan to HK Sochi for cash. Paigin posted one assist in eight games for Ak Bars this fall, before being sent down to Bars Kazan of the VHL (he scored a goal and added four assists in ten matches there).
Paigin has yet to play for his new team, which was off on its travels when he was traded. HK Sochi return home to face Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk on Wednesday, and we will likely see Paigin in his new colours then.
And, speaking of our players of interest, let us check in on how they are doing:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 19 gp, 1.62 GAA, .941 sv%. He’s doing just fine; in fact, the little Finn is now in the top five in the KHL in both goals-against average and save percentage. If Amur can figure out the goal-scoring thing (no KHL team has scored fewer than their 29 goals in 20 games), they might really go somewhere.
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): 8 gp, 0-1-1, +2, 2 PiM, 7:55 TOI/gm. He has a new address — see above!
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 17 gp, 4-5-9, +10, 4 PiM, 20:54 TOI/gm. A down week for Zaitsev, who scored no points and went -1 in a pair of CSKA losses that saw them give up top spot in the West Conference. That +10 is still a nice number, though — tied for seventh-best in the KHL.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 18 gp, 5-4-9, +4, 33 PiM, 16:00 TOI/gm. Prokhorkin finds himself in a bit of a slump right now, with only one assist in his last eight contests.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 13 gp, 1-0-1, -7, 4 PiM, 15:10 TOI/gm. Still out injured.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 19 gp, 12-10-22, +5, 0 PiM: 20:57 TOI/gm. Three points in three games for Mozyakin this week, as he kept pace with Alexander Radulov at the top of the KHL scoring chart (he has 22 points to Rads’ 24). Mozyakin is also now tied with CSKA’s Geoff Platt for the league lead in goals.
A poll question!
And that should do it for this week. There will be more news notes next Sunday, and other things here in the meantime. Thank you for reading!