A Walk Through the KHL: October 1st, 2017
Another week of the 2017-18 KHL season is behind us, and this one saw the ends of three sizeable losing streaks (but the continuation of another)! We also have something of a scheduling SNAFU involving Kunlun Red Star Beijing, a whopping great suspension (thoroughly deserved), a few players moving here and there, and other items of that sort. Read on, for this week’s news notes!
(teams are presented in the order of the current Conference standings — number in brackets is the change in position since last week)
1 (–). Ak Bars Kazan (10-4, 31 pts.): Things are going along swimmingly for Ak Bars, but they will be without the services of defenceman Stepan Zakharchuk for the next while. The 30-year-old will have to serve an eight-game suspension as the result of a hellish head-check on Metallurg’s Alexander Budkin.
2 (+3). Avangard Omsk Oblast (11-4, 29 pts.): Avangard took time out before last week’s game against Dynamo Moscow to honour a couple of longstanding devout fans. Pyotr and Sofiya Martemyanov have been attending Avangard games since the mid-1980s, and have not missed a home match in nine seasons despite living in Cherlak, 150 km. from Omsk. On behalf of Omsk Oblast governor Viktor Nazarov, the couple were presented with personalized watches by Avangard captain Yevgeny Medvedev.
3 (-1). Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (9-4, 29 pts.): Early days yet, of course, but for all his well-documented bouts of unpleasantness, Andrei Nazarov is very much in the conversation for Coach of the Year. My own theory, and you need not agree, is that he has a real knack for getting relatively untalented teams to play above their abilities, while struggling to exercise control over teams that are full of star power. We may recall that he guided both Severstal Cherepovets and Donbass Donetsk not just to the playoffs, but to the second round thereof, and also how badly he failed when in charge of SKA St. Petersburg.
And, in something of an irony given that this is an Andrei Nazarov team, Neftekhimik have taken the second-fewest penalty minutes of any team so far this season (just 130 minutes in 15 minutes). In any case, the little Tatar team is making itself into one of the big early stories of this 2017-18 season.
4 (+5). Kunlun Red Star Beijing (9-7, 27 pts.): KRS find themselves in something of a mess as regards their schedule. With their Shanghai rink, itself a temporary home while their Beijing arena is being fixed up, unavailable for October as it hosts a political event, the Chinese team was scheduled to play “home games” versus Traktor, Lada, and Metallurg on those teams’ ice. Now, however, the game against Traktor on Monday has been postponed indefinitely, although the other two will apparently still go ahead next week (Update! The Traktor match will be played, in Chelyabinsk, on October 18th. And the above-mentioned match vs. Lada will actually take place in Shanghai, on the fourth of October as scheduled).
We still await definitive word of the fate of Kunlun Red Star’s home games late in October; there has been some talk of hosting them in Harbin, home of VHL farm club KRS Heilongjiang.
5 (+3). Metallurg Magnitogorsk (9-8, 27 pts.): That’s more like it! In last week’s notes, I mentioned the early-season struggles of young goalie Ilya Samsonov, then sporting an .886 sv%. In three games since then, the 20-year-old local product has stopped 114 of 118 shots, boosting that sv% to the level of the league average at .920.
6 (-3). Salavat Yulaev Ufa (9-6, 26 pts.): You may have noticed the absence of Linus Omark from the Salavat Yulaev lineup for most of their last couple of games. The team’s top scorer was taken ill during Tuesday’s loss at Traktor, and missed Thursday’s win over Lada. Said Omark on Saturday: “I had pain in my throat and my stomach. Yesterday I went for blood tests.” The Swedish forward, Salavat Yulaev’s top scorer (14 gp, 5-13-18), hopes to be back in action for Monday’s encounter with Ugra.
7 (-3). Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (9-6, 26 pts.): Avtomobilist this week released Slovenian forward Rok Tičar from his contract — something of a surprise, after he scored a very decent 15 goals for them last season. A tough start to 2017-18 (8 gp, 0-4-4) is probably what lay behind Tičar’s release, but he’s a useful player, and it should come as no surprise that he was quickly scooped up by another KHL team (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod — see below).
8 (-2). Barys Astana (8-7, 25 pts.): North American players debuting in the KHL have usually arrived from the NHL or AHL. But 27-year-old Canadian defenceman Jordan Southorn, a former Buffalo Sabres prospect, took a different route, being signed this week from Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk of the VHL. Southorn made his KHL entrance on Saturday against Traktor, but did not find the scoresheet.
One Barys player who has been finding the scoresheet with regularity is Nigel Dawes; with 15 goals in 15 games, he was named September’s Forward of the Month in the KHL.
9 (-2). Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast (8-7, 24 pts.): The early-season “Ouch” award goes to Sibir defenceman Kirill Vorobyov. The 22-year-old currently leads the KHL in blocked shots, having successfully gotten in the puck’s way 36 times in 15 games.
10 (–). Traktor Chelyabinsk (7-9, 20 pts.): Traktor bolstered their defence by signing veteran rearguard Yevgeny Ryasensky (he spent last season at Neftekhimik), only to see him promptly get hurt. And so they are trying again, reportedly by inking former NHLer Nikita Nikitin to a deal (Nikitin’s 2016-17 campaign was spent with Avangard). In an interesting coincidence, the two were team-mates on Russia’s gold-medal-winning 2012 World Championship team.
11 (–). Amur Khabarovsk (4-9, 15 pts.): The week began poorly for Amur, with suspensions announced to forward Tomáš Zohorna (three games for unlawfully leaving the bench) and defenceman Jan Kolář (five games for checking to the head). But it ended with sweet relief; Amur broke a nine-game losing skid with a 3-2 victory over Dynamo in Moscow.
12 (–). Admiral Vladivostok (4-11, 15 pts.): Former Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild d-man Jonathon Blum moved into third place on Admiral’s all-time points list this week. Blum has scored 10-47-57 in 115 games for the young Far-Eastern club. Topping that list, by the way, is forward Niclas Bergfors (144 gp, 42-52-93 for Admiral), who is now in the Swedish league with Djurgårdens.
13 (–). Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk (4-11, 11 pts.): Nor were Amur the only team celebrating their first victory in awhile. With new coach Anatoly Yemelin behind the bench, Ugra downed HK Sochi 3-2 in overtime on Saturday; Pavel Varfolomeyev scored the slump-busting goal. Ugra have also brought in 21-year-old forward Artur Lauta, a promising product of the Avangard Omsk youth system.
14 (–). Lada Tolyatti (3-14, 10 pts.): And we wrap up the East by completing the hat-trick of Teams That Broke Long Losing Streaks! Lada had lost ten on the trot when HK Sochi came to the banks of the Volga for a game on Tuesday, but Kirill Kapustin’s goal a minute into overtime game the Tolyatti side a 2-1 victory to savour. They couldn’t build on it however; Lada have dropped their two games since.
1 (–). SKA St. Petersburg (16-0, 45 pts.): Patrik Hersley has been named the KHL’s Defenceman of the Month for September, after scoring 9-8-17 in 15 games for the St. Petersburg juggernaut (he leads KHL rearguards in goals and points). It really has all been going SKA’s way — forward Sergei Shirokov this week took over the KHL’s points lead (16 gp, 11-10-21), while goalie Igor Shestyorkin has the best sv% on the circuit with .954 in 11 contests. A difficult mid-month quintet of games (Salavat Yulaev, Ak Bars, the surprisingly tough Neftekhimik, Jokerit, and CSKA, in that order) should be a mouth-watering prospect for fans!
2 (+3). Jokerit Helsinki (11-2, 32 pts.): Have we talked about Eeli Tolvanen yet? At 18, the KHL’s Rookie of the Month for September has already posted two hat-tricks on the season, the latest of which came in last Monday’s 5-2 victory over Vityaz. Joyous news not just for Jokerit, but also for the Nashville Predators, who appear to have gotten a steal when they selected Tolvanen 30th overall in the 2017 draft. Jokerit have now won nine in a row, by the way, and have not lost since August 29th.
3 (–). Dynamo Moscow (11-6, 31 pts.): Dynamo have waived 27-year-old forward Artyom Podshendyalov, after he started the season with just 1-2-3 in 15 games. It will be intriguing to see who if anyone comes in for him, as he did score 16 goals for Admiral Vladivostok in 2015-16, and his line of 39 gp, 9-11-20 for Dynamo last season was not too bad either (Update! Podshendyalov has indeed found a new home, and it’s at Spartak).
4 (+2). CSKA Moscow (11-3, 29 pts.): CSKA have recalled three of the five players whom they sent, rather unusually, to the VHL last week. Forwards Konstantin Okulov (3 gp, 3-3-6 in the VHL), Andrei Kuzmenko (3 gp, 3-3-6), and Andrei Svetlakov (3 gp, 1-5-6) did very well indeed in the farm league, and all three were back in the lineup for today’s game against Torpedo. Okulov and Kuzmenko celebrated their returns with two points apiece in the 4-0 CSKA victory, while Svetlakov added an assist.
5 (+2). Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (9-7, 27 pts.): Torpedo have signed Rok Tičar, whose departure from Avtomobilist I discussed above. The Slovenian forward has yet to find the scoresheet in two games for his new team, but this looks like a very decent acquisition. Torpedo also got some cheerful news this week when goalie Stanislav Galimov was named KHL Goalie of the Month for September on the strength of his .949 sv%.
6 (-4). Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (8-8, 26 pts.): Lokomotiv’s 2017-18 campaign has hit something of a roadblock, in the form of a four-game losing streak during which they have given up 19 goals. Things don’t get easier, either; Lokomotiv host SKA on Monday, then travel to Moscow to face Dynamo and CSKA. One bright spot: blueliner Staffan Kronwall leads all KHL defencemen in assists, with 13.
7 (-3). HK Sochi (8-7, 25 pts.): The Black Sea club has cancelled the contract of 32-year-old Canadian forward Ryan Garbutt. The former Dallas, Chicago, and Anaheim NHLer had scored 1-4-5 in 12 games for Sochi this season.
8 (–). Severstal Cherepovets (7-9, 23 pts.): Severstal are offering any local fans who think they have what it takes the chance to try out for the team! Through the “Severstal Select” contest, aspiring KHLers can send in video of themselves in action. Finalists, chosen by the coaching staff, will undergo training, and one of those applicants will be win a spot in the lineup for an actual game.
9 (+1). Spartak Moscow (8-8, 20 pts.): A somewhat under-the-radar summer move that is working out very well indeed is Spartak’s acquisition of forward Alexander Khokhlachyov. The Red-and-Whites signed the former Boston Bruins prospect from SKA on the very eve of the new season, after a 2016-17 campaign in which he scored an unspectacular 5-5-10 in 25 games while languishing down the depth chart. He has already bettered that point total in a feature role for Spartak, with a line of 13 gp, 4-9-13.
10 (-1). Vityaz Moscow Oblast (6-11, 19 pts.): While Vityaz have struggled for results lately (they have lost three in a row), it has been a nice little run for the venerable Max Afinogenov. His 38th birthday now a month behind him, he has scored 5-2-7 in his last six games.
11 (–). Dinamo Minsk (6-10, 17 pts.): Don’t go to sleep on Dinamo Minsk — sure, they’re well out of the playoff picture at the moment, but the Belarusan side also has the KHL’s lowest team shooting percentage. Just 5.36% of Dinamo’s shots end up as goals, compared to the league average of about 8%, and some of that — maybe even quite a lot of it — is luck. Dinamo may be in line for a helpful adjustment in that stat, and a subsequent move up the table. We will see.
12 (–). Slovan Bratislava (4-12, 16 pts.): Slovan have released Teemu Ramstedt from his contract. The playmaking Finnish forward, who scored 7-18-25 in 49 games for Amur last season, got into just two 2017-18 contests for Slovan, posting no points.
13 (–). Dinamo Riga (2-14, 5 pts.): Dinamo, hideously mired in the depths of a 12-game losing streak and with a new coach behind the bench, have elected forward Miks Indrašis as Captain (Miķelis Rēdlihs, Colton Gillies, Gints Meija, and Georgijs Pujacs will wear the ‘A’). The team has also cut ties with former NHL forward T.J. Galiardi, who had six assists in 11 games for the Latvian team.
Thank you for reading!