Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: November 16th, 2015
The KHL emerged from its first break of the season this past week, and produced a couple of truly odd results in the process! Below the jump, we’ll take a look at what happened there, and also check in on the Women’s League, the Russian U18 team that is playing in the MHL this season, coaching news, et cetera. Read on!
A couple of KHL head coaches who had been serving in an interim capacity had the “acting” label removed from the job titles last week. At Lada Tolyatti, Artis Ābols, who replaced Sergei Svetlov in mid-September, was confirmed as the team’s bench boss. Ābols had a bit of rough go of it immediately after Svetlov’s firing, but recent results have been much better; the team from Samara Oblast is 10-3 since breaking a ten-game losing streak in October. The playoffs, once only the pipe-iest of pipe-dreams, are, if not within reach, at least within sight, and the decision to stick with the 42-year-old Latvian as Head Coach seems an obvious and reasonable one.
The other interim head coach to be made permanent in the past week is Sergei Zubov, who stepped in at SKA St. Petersburg when Andrei Nazarov was fired in mid-October. SKA’s early-season struggles, which saw them surprisingly fighting for a playoff spot, have been one of the 2015-16 season’s major plot-lines so far, and Zubov, with a 5-2 record since taking over, has certainly helped right the ship at least for now.
Not to take anything away from Zubov, but I would be remiss not to point out that at least one player acquisition has also been of immense benefit to SKA in the last few weeks. Nikita Gusev, the 23-year-old forward to arrived from Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk in October, has seven points in four games for the St. Petersburg giants, and has helped ease the sting of Artemy Panarin’s off-season departure to the NHL. Vyacheslav Voynov, whose story you know by now, has also been added to the defense corps.
Speaking of coaches, Václav Sýkora is now officially out at Severstal Cherepovets. With his team in the basement of the West Conference, Sýkora had been from his duties just before the KHL break began with Dmitry Yushkevich coming in as his replacement. His contract has now been cancelled, and Severstal belong to Yushkevich, at least for the time being.
The KHL got back to playing games last week, after the ten-day November international break, and among the noteworthy results was one that will certainly go down as among the most famous games in the history of lowly Amur Khabarovsk. The far-easterners, who are coming off consecutive last-place finishes in the KHL, are better this season, if only somewhat. They currently sit 24th out of 28, although they do boast the league’s fifth-best Goals Against Average (2.07) at the moment. The problem, as you might guess from those numbers, has been been at the other end of the ice; coming out of the break Amur had scored only 46 goals in 28 games.
And so expectations for Amur were a bit low when they headed into Novosibirsk to take on conference-leading Sibir on Thursday, especially since the latter had taken at least a point from 15 straight games going back to September 20th. Nonetheless, when all was said and done, the scoreboard read “7-0,” and it was Amur who had scored the seven. Seven different players did the scoring, as well, just to add to the unlikeliness of it all.
It was a trying week for poor Sibir, all in all. Their menu featured two games against current cellar-dwellers Metallurg Novokuznetsk, as well as the match against Amur, but they came out of it all with only three points. Even those were earned the hard way, as they had to come from 3-0 down to beat Metallurg 6-4 in the first of their two meetings (Metallurg won the second, 3-0). In Sibir’s defense, they were without their top scorer of both goals and points, Sweden’s David Ullström (24 gp, 11-6-17), who is injured and may miss another week or so. On the bright side, Sibir still do have a seven-point lead atop the East Conference, and this stretch probably represents nothing worse than the usual little spot of trouble that even the best encounter at some point every season.
Thursday was a very tough day for all four of the KHL’s division leaders. Not only did they all lose, they scored a collected total of zero goals, and three of them were playing at home. We have already discussed Sibir, leaders of the Chernyshev Division, and their loss to Amur. Kharlamov Division leaders Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, meanwhile, were shut out 4-0 at home by Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, while Jokerit Helsinki (Bobrov Division) lost 2-0 in Kazakhstan to Barys Astana. And Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, leaders of the Tarasov Division, completed the sad quartet by going down 2-0 at home to CSKA Moscow.
The result? Two of those four four teams are no longer division leaders. Avtomobilist have given way to Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Kharlamov division, while CSKA have taken from Lokomotiv not only the divisional lead, but also top spot in the West Conference and indeed in the entire KHL.
What happened to Lokomotiv, who recently enjoyed a 13-game winning streak while conceding only about a goal a game? Well, since the streak ended against Traktor Chelyabinsk in late October, the Yaroslavlians have lost five straight, and given up 13 goals in the process (it is a mark of how good they were earlier that 13 GAA in five games is seen as a disastrous fall from grace). As with Sibir, the injury bug has played its part. Goalie Alexei Murygin and his league-leading .959 save percentage are back in action after a short spell among the wounded, although regression to the mean may be setting in with him a little bit. But Lokomotiv remain without forward Yegor Averin, who has not played since October 20th, and whose 14 goals on the season are still twice as many as any of his team-mates have scored. There does not seem to be any word on when Averin is expected back, it his return cannot come too soon for the Lokomotiv faithful.
The Russian Women’s Hockey League was also back in action this week, and Agidel Ufa have at least temporarily stretched their standings lead to eight points. The amazing Olga Sosina scored four goals and added two assists for Agidel in a pair of 6-4 victories over SKIF Nizhny Novgorod this past week, enabling her to move past Anna Shokhina of Tornado Moscow Oblast and into first place in the scoring races — both goals and points (Fanuza Kadirova, of Arktik Universitet Ukhta, also overtook Shokhina in points, to sit second).
Second-place Tornado, with two games in hand, will have a chance this week to reduce the gap at the top, although they face a couple of potentially tricky encounters with dangerous scorer Valeriya Pavlova and her Biryusa Krasnoyarsk team-mates. Biryusa are currently fourth, but could overtake Dynamo St. Petersburg for third if they can get a result or two against Tornado. Once those games are done, everybody will have reached the halfway point of the season, and we will devote a post here to how things have gone so far.
One of the big questions in Russian boys’ junior hockey entering this season was how the country’s U18 national team would fare as a club in the MHL. It would in theory be a more talented but younger and less experienced group than its opponents, which suggested that things could go either way. Well, so far the U18s are doing just fine, or even better. They were beaten today, 4-2 by HK MVD Balashikha, but that loss broke an 11-game winning streak by the young nationals, who have a 16-8 record (their GF-GA of 90-54 suggests that this is not a fluke). The U18s lead the Central Division by a long ways (21 points, to be precise), although their divisional rivals all have multiple games in hand, so that does not tell us much at all.
The U18s can boast a deep roster; those 90 goals have come with only one player in the top 13 in the MHL in points (Artur Kayumov, in a five-way tie for ninth with 20 points) and one in the top ten for goals (Ivan Kosorenkov, whose 10 markers have him in a four-way tie for seventh). They have also been getting excellent goaltending; ‘keepers Mikhail Berdin (.932) and Vladislav Sukhachyov (.925) are in the league’s top ten for save percentage, with the former currently in fourth and the latter in ninth.
After the flurry of international action to start November (six different Russian national teams in action!), there was a single such tournament going on this past week, and it was the annual Canada Russia Series (formerly the Subway Super Series), featuring a visiting Russian junior team taking on representative squads of the three Canadian junior leagues. The young Russians won the series last year, but so far in 2015, they have struggled. The WHL team beat the Russian side 7-3 and 4-2 last week, and the OHLers have now also swept both meetings, by scores of 3-0 and 2-1. Still to come are the two games against the QMJHL team, to be played on Tuesday and Thursday of this week.
The Russian team, composed of players from the MHL and the North American leagues, has obviously struggled to find the net, with no individual player having recorded more than a single point over the four games so far.
@kyleroussel Semin is done. At least Bergevin’s mistake signing him was for 4th line money, for just this season. Bullet. Dodged.
— HabsWatch (@HabsWatch) November 17, 2015
Turning briefly to the NHL: the twitter-wires are ablaze this evening with talk that forward Alexander Semin may be on his way out of Montreal. Semin, signed by the Habs in the off-season from the Carolina Hurricanes, has been a healthy scratch several times already this season, and reportedly skipped an optional training session this morning. He was in the lineup for the Canadiens this evening against Vancouver, but played only 6:48, failing to record a shot but taking a minor penalty. If this was his final game as a Hab, his line will read: 12 gp, 1-2-3.
Questions — fair or otherwise — about Semin’s effort level have dogged him through his career, but there is no doubt whatsoever that he can be a useful scorer, even if his 30th birthday is now behind him. He has 516 points in 646 NHL regular season games, including a 40-goal, 84-point, season for the Capitals in 2009-10. We are dealing with “ifs” here, but IF the Canadiens let him go, and IF no other NHL team is interested in his services, Semin could very well be plying his trade in the KHL before the current season is over.
Back to the KHL we go, then, for a quick look at the week’s player moves. The big news in that category was the departure of goalie Ivan Lisutin from Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. The 28-year-old has had some good seasons in the past — he was an all-star with Vityaz in 2013-14 — but had found himself third on the depth chart in Nizhny Novgorod this season, behind Ilya Proskuryakov and Mikhail Biryukov. And so Lisutin is headed for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, where he will likely back up Alexander Sudnitsin.
And forward Alexei Mikhnov, whom we noted last week as having departed Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk during the break, has found work once again, signing up for what will be a second stint with VHL leaders THK Tver.
Time for a look at the six players whom we’re following particularly closely this season! How did they get on this week? Let’s see:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 29 gp, 1.85 GAA, .933 sv%. Five shutouts now on the season for Metsola, the most recent being that big win over Sibir in mid-week. He’s the big reason Amur still have even an outside shot at the post-season.
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): 14 gp, 0-4-4, +1, 2 PiM, 9:50 TOI/gm. Another week and another assist for young Paigin, who is seeing much more playing time these days. He’s on the ice about half again as much with Sochi as he was before his move from Ak Bars.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): 24 gp, 4-9-13, +13, 10 PiM, 20:56 TOI/gm. It was a bit of a down week for Zaitsev, even as rumours that he’s NHL-bound next season continued to swirl. No points in two games, and more than doubled his season penalty total in a bad-tempered loss to Slovan Bratislava.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): 28 gp, 9-7-16, +6, 44 PiM, 16:31 TOI/gm. Like Zaitsev, Prokhorkin was scoreless in two games this week, both of which Salavat Yulaev lost.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 21 gp, 1-2-3, -8, 8 PiM, 14:05 TOI/gm. Vityaz had a busy week, with four games, but they lost all four in regulation, while Palola went pointless and -3. We’re back to wondering how much longer he’ll be a Vityaz player.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): 30 gp, 21-17-38, +6, 0 PiM: 21:08 TOI/gm. At least one of our forwards had a good week! Four points and +3 for Mr. Mozyakin in three Metallurg victories. He now leads the KHL points race by five, and the goals race by three.
That’s it for this batch of news notes! We’ll be back next Monday, and there should be other things here in the mean-time, so thank you for reading and please do check back!