Checking in With the Lower Leagues
The KHL playoffs’ second round began yesterday, with all series now one game in. No one was too surprised to see CSKA Moscow and Metallurg Magnitogorsk win their openers, versus Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and Barys Astana respectively, although the Magnitogorsk fans will be hoping that whatever illness kept Sergei Mozyakin out of the lineup today is of short duration. Ak Bars Kazan, meanwhile, captured home-ice advantage with an opening-game overtime victory over Avangard in Omsk, while Dynamo Moscow provided the big early shock with an overtime win in St. Petersburg against SKA. 3-2 was the final in that one, with Maxim Karpov scoring all three goals for Dynamo.
Our attention this evening, however, is on the post-season happenings in the VHL (previously updated here) and the MHL, the latter of whose regular season just finished up. Read on!
The second-round pairings in the VHL (the second-tier professional men’s league in Russia) are now fully set, as follows (seedings in brackets):
(1) Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk vs. (12) Dynamo St. Petersburg
(2) SKA-Neva St. Petersburg vs. (10) Rubin Tyumen
(3) Saryarka Karaganda vs. (8) Zauralye Kurgan
(4) Sputnik Nizhny Tagil vs. (6) Dynamo Balashikha
The top three seeds all came through Round 1 in relatively untroubled fashion, but number four Sputnik Nizhny Tagil found themselves in a tough struggle against 13th-ranked Yermak Angarsk. Befitting their higher seed, Sputnik leapt out to a 3-0 series lead, although there something of a warning sign in the fact that two of the games required overtime. Indeed, Yermak were far from finished; the little team from the Lake Baikal region of Siberia came roaring back with three straight victories of their own to bring on a seventh and deciding game. In that one, Sputnik were able to spare their blushes with a 4-3 victory.
Elsewhere, there were two fairly major upsets in Round 1. Tenth-seeded Rubin Tyumen came in as nominal underdogs to number seven THK Tver, but there was little sign of that once the playoff puck dropped — not only did Rubin come through, but they did so in the minimum possible four games. And Dynamo St. Petersburg, 12th-ranked in the regular season, pulled out a hard-fought six-game victory over fifth-seeded Toros Neftekamsk. It has been a good month or so overall for the Dynamo St. Petersburg club: the women’s squad secured its first top-three finish in the Women’s Hockey League, and now the men’s team, in its inaugural season at the professional level, has advanced to the last eight.
Both of last year’s VHL finalists, Neftyanik Almetyevsk and Izhstal Izhevsk, had difficult regular seasons, and both are now finished for 2016-17. Neftyanik, defending Bratina Cup champions, were the 11th seed coming in, and were disposed of in six Round 1 games by Dynamo Balashikha. Izhstal, beaten finalists in 2015-16, had an even harder time; they barely made the post-season at all, and their 16th-place finish made them easy prey in five games for top-seeded Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk.
In terms of individual stand-outs, the points race lead is currently a five-player tie at six points each. One of the men in that group, Sputnik’s Denis Mingaleyev, is alone atop the goal standings with four. We should also keep an eye on goalie Denis Peretyagin of Saryarka Karaganda; the 25-year-old former Severstal Cherepovets prospect replaced veteran Georgy Gelashvili in the Saryarka net partway through Game 2 of the opening-round series against Zvezda Chekhov. From there on, Peretyagin allowed only two goals on 68 shots (.971 sv%) as the Karaganda team wrapped up a five-game victory.
Round 2 starts on Sunday, and we’ll keep you updated on developments!
The junior men’s MHL regular season finished up this past week, and the playoffs therefore are all set for the first round. The top eight in each conference (East and West) make the post-season, with the first-round match-ups featuring first vs. eighth, second vs. seventh, and so on. Here then are the 2016-17 pairings for Round 1, and note that these series are best-of-five:
(1) SKA-1946 St. Petersburg vs. (8) Chaika Nizhny Novgorod
(2) Krasnaya Armiya Moscow vs. (7) MHK Dynamo St. Petersburg
(3) Loko Yaroslavl vs. (6) Almaz Cherepovets
(4) Russkie Vityazi Chekhov vs. (5) MHK Spartak Moscow
(1) Reaktor Nizhnekamsk vs. (8) Avto Yekaterinburg
(2) Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk vs. (7) Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk
(3) Irbis Kazan vs. (6) Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk
(4) Kuznetskie Medvedi Novokuznetsk vs. (5) Sarmaty Orenburg
The MHL’s top scorer during the regular season was Omskie Yastreby Omsk’s Artyom Manukyan (60 gp, 39-66-105), while his line-mate Anton Kovalyov was second in points and first in goals (53 gp, 41-46-87). A devastating duo, but it was not quite enough; Omskie Yastreby missed the East Conference playoffs, heartbreakingly, on the last day of the season via the tie-breaker. The top two 2016-17 scorers active in the playoffs are also team-mates: Kuznetskie Medvedi’s Andrei Karavayev (54 gp, 28-51-79) and Konstantin Parkhomenko (52 gp, 31-39-70). As poor as Metallurg Novokuznetsk have been in the KHL era, and they have been very poor indeed in a couple of senses of that word, they can take justifiable pride in the talent that comes out of their youth system. This is, after all, the club that recently unleashed Kirill Kaprizov upon the world, and they now have Karavayev and Parkhomenko looking to fill his very large skates.
When we consider goalies to watch, we once again find Dynamo St. Petersburg — the junior men’s squad this time — in the spotlight. Kirill Ustimenko led the MHL with a .938 sv% in 27 games, but he will need all of that if he is to lead Dynamo past their first-round opponents Krasnaya Armiya, youth team of CSKA Moscow. Sarmaty Orenburg, meanwhile, have a tremendous goaltending tandem. Coming in at .937 were both Artyom Sergeyev (23 games) and Danil Kudashev (39 games), with makes their opening-round match-up against the above-discussed high-scoring duo at Kuznetskie Medvedi something to look forward to.
The MHL’s youngsters play for the Kharlamov Cup, named of course after the wonderful Red Army and Soviet national team forward of the 1970s. Loko Yaroslavl are the current holders, and we will begin to find out on Saturday if they can repeat.
Thank you for reading!