KHL Playoff Update, and Other Matters
A couple of weeks ago here, we discussed Dynamo Moscow defenceman Andrei Kuteikin’s long-range goal against Torpedo in Round 1. Incredibly, Kuteikin has now pulled the same trick not once, but twice (see video above), in his team’s first three games against SKA St. Petersburg. Opposing coaches (and goalies) may wish to make a note! But have those goals done his team any real good? Read on, for updates on that series and the rest of the KHL’s second round, and a bit of discussion of whatever happened to Ziyat Paigin.
(1) CSKA Moscow 2-1 (4) Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
This one would quite probably be at 3-0 for the Moscow giants were it not for a spectacular performance by Lokomotiv goalie Alexei Murygin in Game 2. CSKA had won Game 1 in fairly routine fashion, despite a pair of goals from Yaroslavl defenceman Jakub Nakládal; Andrei Svetlakov cancelled those with a pair of his own, and the final score was 4-2. But in the second game, Murygin took over, stopping 49 of 52 shots (his own team managed just 27). A late Valery Nichushin goal made things interesting, but Murygin and Lokomotiv held on to level the series at a game apiece via a 4-3 win. However, CSKA regained the advantage today in Yaroslavl, as Stéphane Da Costa’s third-period goal stood as the winner in a 2-1 victory. Viktor Fasth got his first start in goal of the playoffs for CSKA today, as he replaced Ilya Sorokin, who had struggled in Game 2; Fasth did just fine, making 23 saves.
Increasingly impressive in this series has been the play of CSKA rearguard Bogdan Kiselevich. With four assists in the three games, he has run his playoff line to 7 gp, 2-6-8, and sits second behind Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s Chris Lee (7 gp, 0-11-11) in post-season points by defensemen.
(2) SKA St. Petersburg 2-1 (3) Dynamo Moscow
SKA have been out-shooting Dynamo heavily in this series (by nearly 12 shots per game at this point), but they nonetheless find their hands full. Dynamo won the opener, 3-2 in overtime, and there was no doubt who the “First Star” was; Maxim Karpov scored all three goals for the Moscow side. Game 2 saw SKA rebound, with Vadim Shipachyov’s first-period goal the official winner in a 2-1 victory. At that point, Dynamo goalie Alexander Yeryomenko had stopped 75 of 79 shots in the series, but he finally looked mortal in Game 3, allowing three goals on 20 shots. Even so, Dynamo took a 2-1 lead into the third, but Shipachyov and Yevgeny Dadonov scored for SKA in the final frame, before Ilya Kovalchuk added an empty-netter for the 4-2 win and the series lead. The game was also notable for the second-period ejection, for charging, of Pavel Datsyuk — an unusual end to the night for the four-time winner of the NHL’s Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship (it was clearly a revenge hit, as Datsyuk had been the victim of some rough stuff that went unseen by the referees a few moments before).
Gusev from Shipachyov and Dadonov.
The line of Shipachyov, Dadonov, and Nikita Gusev has been on something of a rampage for SKA in these playoffs. Dadonov leads the way at 7 gp, 5-6-11, followed by Gusev at 7 gp, 3-6-9, and then Shipachyov at 6 gp, 3-5-8. And we should also note SKA defenseman Anton Belov, who has seven points in seven games.
(1) Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2-0 (5) Barys Astana
A surprise beginning to this one, as Sergei Mozyakin missed Game 1 — illness given as the official reason. It did not matter, however; Vasily Koshechkin made 30 saves as Metallurg opened with a 4-0 win despite Mozyakin’s absence. He was back for Game 2, which was a thriller. Metallurg, behind a Danis Zaripov hat-trick, held a 4-3 lead into the final three minutes, but Barys forward Nigel Dawes, having himself a fine playoff scoring run (8 gp, 6-2-8), tied the game and sent it onward to overtime. Any hopes Barys had of levelling the series were dashed, however, when Metallurg Yaroslav Kosov scored eight minutes into the extra frame.
Mozyakin had three assists on his return to the lineup, and now has nine points in six playoff games in 2016-17, but Zaripov is becoming the big story. Long cast in the role of sublime playmaker for Mozyakin’s lethal finishing, his Game 2 hat-trick was his second in three contests; he has scored seven goals overall in that span. And with that, the 35-year-old Zaripov has a playoff line of 7 gp, 8-6-14, leading the KHL in post-season points and goals. The third member of that line, Jan Kovář (7 gp, 5-7-12), is tied for second in points, with defenseman Chris Lee (7 gp 0-11-11) tied for fourth, further demonstration of Metallurg ‘s scoring depth.
(2) Avangard Omsk Oblast 0-2 (3) Ak Bars Kazan
Talk about playing with fire! Ak Bars took the first two games of the series, in Omsk no less, despite firing only 35 total shots on the Avangard net. If not exactly wide-open hockey (Avangard have just 50 shots of their own), both games have been thrilling enough. The first saw Ak Bars leading 1-0 into the final minute, before Yevgeny Medvedev levelled the account. The Kazanites were not dismayed, however, and Artyom Lukoyanov was on hand to win it for them just two minutes into overtime. In Game 2, Avangard held Ak Bars to just six shots through 40 minutes, but couldn’t score themselves, and they paid the price late on. It was Fyodor Malykhin who potted the winner with less than four minutes to go, and Ak Bars added an empty-netter to make the final 2-0. It’s good to see Malykhin doing well; once a very promising prospect with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, he has wandered in the wilderness a bit the last couple of seasons. In 2016-17, however, Malykhin showed signs of recovery, however, and he now has four playoff goals in seven games.
Much attention, obviously, must be paid to Ak Bars goalie Emil Garipov, who has been superb. The 25-year-old has stopped 49 of those 50 Avangard shots, and he even contributed an assist on Lukoyanov’s Game 1 overtime winner.
On the subject of Ak Bars, a quick word about the progress of towering young defenceman Ziyat Paigin. He wrote one of the great stories of the 2015-16 KHL season, going from a depth role at Ak Bars (including time on the VHL farm team), which was not unusual for a young player, to a breakout offensive performance with HK Sochi (37 gp, 9-18-27). He played in the KHL All-Star Game, and even got a short look-see from the Russian national team prior to the World Championship. Among those watching with great pleasure would have been the Edmonton Oilers, who had drafted Paigin in the seventh round of the 2015 NHL draft.
But 2016-17 has seen the young man take, apparently, a large step back. He re-signed with Ak Bars in the off-season but struggled early and then got hurt. Once he had healed, the rest of the season was split between the KHL and VHL; in the big league, he managed only 17 games, scoring 1-3-5, and perhaps most damagingly had only one game where his plus-minus was better than zero. I know +/- is a deeply flawed stat, but Paigin’s overall -7, on a strong Ak Bars team, is not encouraging. We must be blunt here: he was playing poorly.
In the VHL, he at least scored at a decent clip (10 gp, 1-4-5, not bad for a defenceman), and though he was -7 in that league too, Ak Bars’ farm team was awful this year, and that will have dragged his +/- down somewhat. Paigin has been practicing with Ak Bars through these KHL playoffs, but has yet to dress for a game, and there is no sign that that’s about to change.
What went wrong? It may just be a matter of different coaching. Under Sochi head coach Vyacheslav Butsayev, Paigin was given freedom to join the attack, and to improvise. In an interview last May, the young man himself summed up Butsayev’s system: “If everything is working for you, please, always do what you want.” It is no surprise that under Ak Bars bench boss Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, famed for his ability to put together superb defensive groups and himself an excellent defenseman in his playing days, no such freedom was to be found. “At Ak Bars,” said Paigin in the same interview, “there are certain tactics, and we adhere to them.” So perhaps we are looking at a player who simply does not fit in the scheme of the team that employs him.
All is, of course, far from lost. Paigin showed last year that he can get up front with the forwards to good effect, and that nice things can happen when he improvises as well. Those are both valuable tools, and it is worth noting that even mid-way through this season, when the wheels had clearly come off and Bilyaletdinov was publicly expressing his dissatisfaction, there was still no shortage of teams interested in Paigin’s services. Paigin’s contract expires on April 30th of this year, and it will be very interesting to find out whether he gives it a try with Ak Bars for another year, moves to a different KHL team where he will perhaps be a better fit, or tries his luck across the ocean with the Oilers. We shall see.
One final little note regarding Paigin and the Oilers: should he choose to go overseas, he will find at least one familiar face. Young Edmonton forward Anton Slepyshev also comes from Paigin’s hometown of Penza, and the two were team-mates back in 2004 (Slepyshev was 10 years old, Paigin 9) in the Dizelist Penza team for children born in 1994.
Thank you for reading!