Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: February 24th, 2016
Time for some news notes, and we have an update on the Ilya Kovalchuk situation that we discussed on Monday. We still do not know precisely what it is that Kovalchuk did to earn his team’s ire, but it now appears that his banishment from the team will be much longer than just a single game; it has been confirmed that he will not play in Games 3 or 4 of SKA St. Petersburg’s series against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, and that he has been stripped of the captaincy. At this point, we are entitled to suspect that his time in St. Petersburg has come to an end, amid some suggestion that the Detroit Red Wings may be interested in his services.
SKA, however, rallied without their now ex-captain on Tuesday, equalizing the series at a game apiece. The St. Petersburg team ran out to a 3-0 lead, hung on for a 3-2 final score, and now head home with the on-ice crisis at least temporarily averted. Read on, for more playoff notes, a decisive week-end in the Women’s Hockey League, and other things of that sort.
There are, of course, seven other KHL playoff series going on right now, and here’s a quick look at where we are in each of those:
- CSKA Moscow vs. Slovan Bratislava (CSKA leads 2 games to 0) — Everything going according to script here, although Slovan nearly pulled off the upset in Game 2, up 2-0 in the third period before CSKA roared back to take it in overtime.
- Jokerit Helsinki vs. Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (Series tied at 1) — Torpedo were a period away from going home with a 2-0 series lead. Then Kaspars Daugaviņš was ejected for boarding, Torpedo coach Pēteris Skudra followed him for arguing, and the Finnish side came back to tie the series with a 4-3 win.
- HK Sochi vs. Dynamo Moscow (Dynamo leads 2-0) — A very disappointing showing for Sochi so far, and they now face a very tough task in Moscow.
- Avangard Omsk vs. Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (Avangard leads 2-0) — Low-scoring as advertised in Game 1, with the Omsk boys taking it 2-1, but they broke out a bit in Game 2 with a 4-2 victory.
- Metallurg Magnitogorsk vs. Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (Series tied at 1) — Shock of the playoffs so far, as two goals from Alexander Pankov and strong goaltending from Jakub Kovář gave seventh-seeded Avtomobilist a 2-1 road win to open the series.
- Sibir Novosibirsk vs. Admiral Vladivostok (Sibir leads 2-0) — A business-like performance by Sibir in the opener earned them a 4-2 victory, and they were even better in Game 2, winning by 4-0.
- Salavat Yulaev Ufa vs. Ak Bars Kazan (Salavat Yulaev leads 2-0) — Swedes Andreas Engqvist and Linus Omark twice got together to set up Igor Grigorenko, and the Ufans took the “Green Derby” opener by 4-1. Omark added two more assists in Game 2’s 5-2 triumph.
Game 3 in the West series will be on Thursday, with the East’s the day after.
Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod Head Coach Pēteris Skudra has been suspended for Game 3 of their playoff series against Jokerit as a result of the expulsion from Game 2 mentioned above. Apparently, while arguing against the ejection of forward Kaspars Daugaviņš, Skudra made the infamous “throat-cut” gesture in the direction of the referees. And yes, that will indeed draw the attention of the KHL’s Disciplinary Board, each and every time. It does not appear that there will be further action taken against Daugaviņš.
Sticking with the Jokerit-Torpedo series for a moment, I mentioned in the preview of the West Conference playoffs the fine season had by Jokerit’s Danish defenceman Philip Larsen, whose 36 points had him in the KHL’s top five scoring defencemen (has a line 1-1-2 in two playoff games so far). Well, it appears that Larsen may be entering his last stretch as a Jokerit player; the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday traded his NHL rights to the Vancouver Canucks, and per Bob McKenzie on Twitter, the Canucks intend to bring him back to the North America for next season. The 26-year-old from Esbjerg has played 125 career games in the NHL, with Dallas and Edmonton, recording 31 points.
This week saw the long-awaited second showdown in the Women’s Hockey League between Agidel Ufa and Tornado Moscow Oblast, as they faced each other at the latter’s home in Dmitrov on Sunday and Monday with the title very much on the line. Tornado topped the table coming in, by three points, meaning that Agidel needed a sweep of the two games, with at least one of those wins coming in regulation, to overtake them.
Both teams may have been guilty of looking ahead to this pair of contests, as both dropped points earlier in the week. First it was Tornado, losing to SKIF Nizhny Novgorod in overtime on Wednesday and handing the advantage temporarily to Agidel. But the Ufa team gave it back with interest on Thursday with a 3-2 regulation loss to Arktik-Universitet Ukhta. And that set the stage for this weekend.
Game 1 between Tornado and Agidel on Sunday saw Alevtina Shtaryova spot Tornado a 1-0 first-period lead before Galina Skiba doubled the advantage early in the second. Only 20 seconds later, however, Anna Kovslovskikh reduced the arrears for Agidel, and things stood at 2-1 until very late in the game. With less than three minutes to go, the Ufans got their equalizer, as Inna Dyubanok found the net, and then, in overtime, Agidel completed the comeback victory thanks to Alexandra Kapustina’s winner. And so the points deficit was reduced to two…
Second verse, same as the first, at least to begin with. In Monday’s encounter Shtaryova once again gave Tornado the lead after 20 minutes, but this time the redoubtable Olga Sosina tied things for Agidel in the second period. Tornado duly went in front again, through Tatyana Burina, before Anna Shokhina’s third-period goal sealed the 3-1 victory, and a five-point cushion, for the Moscow Oblast side.
What does it mean? Well, Tornado need only a point in either of their remaining two games, both against Biryusa Krasnoyarsk next week, to clinch their second straight championship. Tornado can also secure the title if Agidel drops even a point in either of their last two games, on March 1st and 2nd against SKIF in Nizhny Novgorod.
In Russia’s second-highest professional league, the VHL, the regular season has wrapped up and the playoffs are set to begin on Thursday. Here’s a quick run-down of the first-round matchups (the VHL uses the old playoff system, with no conferences; it’s just 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, and so on):
(1) THK Tver vs. (16) Chelmet Chelyabinsk
(2) HK Ryazan vs. (15) Molot-Prikamye Perm
(3) Toros Neftekamsk vs. (14) Sputnik Nizhny Tagil
(4) Neftyanik Almetyevsk vs. (13) HK Sarov
(5) Buran Voronezh vs. (12) Dynamo Balashikha
(6) Yermak Angarsk vs. (11) Zauralye Kurgan
(7) SKA-Neva St. Petersburg vs. (10) Izhstal Izhevsk
(8) Saryarka Karaganda vs. (9) Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk
Toros Neftekamsk, from the region of Bashkortostan, are the defending champions. Take note of the last of those series: that one will feature both of the VHL’s teams from Kazakhstan facing off against each other.
Speaking of the minor professional leagues, there is talk that a new such circuit will be starting at some point in the near future as a full-on farm league for the KHL. Currently, most, although not all, VHL teams are independent, and strike affiliation deals with KHL teams. Furthermore, unlike AHL teams in North America, independent VHL teams receive only a small handful of players (five or six at most) from whatever KHL team they are affiliated with. The new league, if it goes ahead, would feature teams entirely composed of players from the parent team’s roster and/or development systems.
So what effect would this proposed new league have on the VHL? Quite possibly not much of one. As already mentioned, there are not that many KHL roster players in the VHL anyway, and there are indications that KHL teams would not be required to take part in the new circuit. CSKA Moscow GM Sergei Fedorov commenting that as few as 12 interested teams would be enough to get the farm league going. So those KHL teams which opted not to enter the farm league would presumably continue to strike affiliation deals with VHL clubs as before.
Still many questions and unknown details about this one, but we will keep you posted on new developments.
The junior-age MHL, meanwhile, is just wrapping up its regular season, with the last games scheduled for Sunday and the playoffs to begin thereafter. We will bring you the first-round match-ups once they’re known.
Speaking of the young players, the Russian Under-16 boys’ team that was competing at the World Youth Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, came away with a bronze medal from the tournament thanks to a 6-2 victory over Finland in the third-place game.
The last item before we update our players of interest: for those KHL teams who have missed the playoffs this year, the process of figuring out next season’s roster is already beginning. The free agent signing period does not open until May 1st, but nothing prevents clubs from cutting players loose at this point, and Dinamo Riga got an early start on that this week. Gone from the Latvian team’s roster are defenceman Oskars Cibuļskis and forwards Andris Džeriņš, Māris Bičevskis, and Lauris Dārziņš.
All four have been significant players with Dinamo and the Latvian national team for several seasons, but the biggest name there is Dārziņš (photo above). The 31-year-old has been a KHLer every season since the league’s inception in 2008, spending most of his time with Dinamo but also seeing short stints with Ak Bars Kazan and Traktor Chelyabinsk. In 2015-16, he was Dinamo’s second-leading scorer, posting a line of 10-18-28 in 59 games. One imagines that there will be KHL employement out there for him, if he wants it.
Time to update the team of players whom we’ve been following with particular interest this year, and we find that four of them are still active in the playoffs:
G Juha Metsola (Amur Khabarovsk): 44 gp, 2.15 GAA, .927 sv%. Amur’s season is over, but Metsola is signed for another one, so we will get to see him in the Fall.
D Ziyat Paigin (HK Sochi): Regular Season — 45 gp, 9-19-28, +5, 10 PiM, 16:00 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 2 gp, 0-0-0, -1, o PiM, 19:45 TOI/gm. A tough start to the playoffs for HK Sochi, but Paigin is still logging big minutes for them.
D Nikita Zaitsev (CSKA Moscow): Regular Season — 46 gp, 8-18-26, +21, 20 PiM, 21:01 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 2 gp, 0-0-0, +2, 0 PiM, 22:02 TOI/gm. No playoff points yet for Zaitsev, not that they’ve been needed with CSKA up 2-0 in their series.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa): Regular Season — 55 gp, 19-17-36, +10, 91 PiM, 17:08 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 2 gp, 1-1-2, +2, 2 PiM, 18:38 TOI/gm. Salavat Yulaev have dominated their series with Ak Bars so far, and Prokhorkin has been a big part of that.
F Olli Palola (Vityaz Moscow Oblast): 27 gp, 1-4-5, -8, 10 PiM, 13:42 TOI/gm. For Palola, his season and likely his time at Vityaz have both come to a merciful end. It just did not work out.
F Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk): Regular Season — 57 gp, 32-35-67, +11, 0 PiM: 21:01 TOI/gm. Playoffs — 2 gp, 0-0-0, +0, 0 PiM, 21:40 TOI/gm. We can now say that Mozyakin is slumping: only one point, and a -4 overall, in his last eight games including the first two of the playoffs.
And that’s it for this time. Early next week we’ll check back in with the various playoff series, and other updates as needed — thanks for reading!