A Walk Through the KHL: October 11th, 2017
Well, step forward if you had HK Sochi as the team that would finally put an end to SKA St Petersburg’s unbeaten start to the season! SKA had emerged from their first 20 contests as victors, but in the 21st, today in St. Petersburg, their visitors from the Black Sea got the better of them. Only just barely, mind you — a 3-2 final score in overtime — but the streak is over. Sean Collins will go down in the history books as the man who scored the winner, and it’s not his first historic KHL goal either; Collins scored the first ever goal for Kunlun Red Star Beijing last season (h/t to @IronCaniac for that reminder).
And so SKA “fall” to 20-1 on the 2017-18 season! But what about the rest of the league? Read on, for our (slightly delayed this time) weekly walk through the KHL, which includes another streak (the other kind) coming to an end, the season’s fifth coaching change, and a small black cat on public transit…
One note before we get started: a most interesting expansion rumour emerged today (the KHL will begin questing for new teams once this current round of contraction is done), involving the city of Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, where a new 12,000-seat arena is under construction. The rumour of preliminary negotiations between Uzbek hockey people and the KHL was quickly denied, most notably by the company that had been mentioned as a primary sponsor, but the situation still bears watching. We will keep you posted on that one.
To our team-by-team news bits (teams are presented in the order of the current Conference standings — number in brackets is the change in position since last week):
1 (–). SKA St. Petersburg (20-1, 58 pts.): Head Coach Oleg Znarok has a reputation as a prickly fellow at times, but he had gracious words for his HK Sochi opposite number Sergei Zubov after today’s loss. “I’m glad I lost today to Sergei, and not to somebody else,” said Znarok. You may recall that it was Zubov whom Znarok replaced as SKA Coach in the summer of 2016.
2 (–). Jokerit Helsinki (14-2, 41 pts.): Head Coach Jukka Jalonen is leaving at the end of the season to take over the Finnish national team (rumour has current Finland bench boss Lauri Marjamäki as a likely replacement), and right now he’s making sure he goes out with a bang. Jokerit have won 12 in a row at this point, and their October 21st meeting with SKA in St. Petersburg now looms very large on the calendar indeed!
3 (+1). CSKA Moscow (15-3, 40 pts.): CSKA faced a tricky test on Monday, when their former coach Dmitry Kvartalnov paid a visit with his new team Lokomotiv. No problem in the end, though; Kirill Kaprizov scored his 8th and 9th goals of the season (and added an assist), while Nikita Nesterov had two assists in a 5-2 victory. CSKA have, rather quietly, now won six in a row.
4 (+1). Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (11-9, 33 pts.): Ryan Garbutt wasn’t out of work long; a few days after being cut by HK Sochi, the 32-year-old Canadian has signed with Torpedo. To make room for him, the Nizhny Novgorod side released Slovenian forward Žiga Jeglič, and since then they have placed veteran defenceman Renat Mamashev on the waiver wire.
5 (-2). Dynamo Moscow (12-9, 33 pts.): It has been an up-and-down stretch for Dynamo; they followed up a four-game road winning streak in late September by losing four in a row in early October, with three of those defeats on home ice. That skid was snapped by today’s 3-2 home shootout win over Ak Bars, and we’ll see where Dynamo go from here.
6 (–). Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (10-10, 32 pts.): Lokomotiv are far from bad this season, but their penalty-killing is becoming a real issue. The Railwaymen have been shorthanded 74 times (mid-table-ish in the KHL), and have conceded a goal on 24 of those occasions. That’s a dire 67.6% success rate for the PK-ers, by far the worst in the league (Ugra are second-worst at 74.4%). Job One for new coach Kvartalnov is fairly obvious at this point.
7 (–). HK Sochi (10-10, 31 pts.): Prior to their big victory over SKA today, the Black Sea club had bolstered their defence with a pair of moves. Sochi have signed Finnish stay-at-home rearguard Jyrki Jokipakka, who failed to make the Washington Capitals out of training camp, and also picked up former Sibir Novosibirsk defenceman, Czechia’s Adam Polášek. Both are solid moves, with Polášek in particular a good add; he scored 6-22-28 in 60 games for Sibir last season. Polášek was in the lineup for the historic win today.
8 (–). Severstal Cherepovets (9-11, 28 pts.): Severstal should be happy to see the return of Ignat Zemchenko, whom they have picked up from Sibir for financial compensation. The Ukrainian-born forward, now 25, was a product of the team’s own youth program, and scored well for junior team Almaz Cherepovets at the start of this decade. And while Zemchenko’s 2016-17 line of 10-13-23 in 54 games will quicken no pulses, we must consider that he did that on a dreadful Metallurg Novokuznetsk team (he was second in points on that squad).
9 (+1). Vityaz Moscow Oblast (8-13, 26 pts.): We talked about Max Afinogenov last week, but we’re going to do it again. One of the big questions for Vityaz was whether the 38-year-old could repeat his strong 2016-17 campaign (58 gp, 20-27-47). Well, if anything, Afinogenov has been better this time around. At 19 gp, 10-9-19, he is on course for career highs in the KHL, and for his first point-per-game season in any league since he scored 61 points in 56 games for the 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres.
10 (+1). Dinamo Minsk (8-12, 25 pts.): Dinamo remain the only team in the KHL to have started the same goalie in every game so far this season. Although Mikhail Karnaukhov has made a couple of appearances in relief, Jhonas Enroth has been the first choice for all 20 of Dinamo’s games. He sports a .919 sv%, which is only about league-average, but that disguises the fact that Enroth has done a nice job to recover from a very poor start to the season.
11 (+1). Slovan Bratislava (6-14, 22 pts.): The Slovak team honoured former goalie Marcel Sakáč with a ceremony prior to their meeting with Vityaz a couple of weeks ago. Sakáč, now 70, was in the Slovan net for their only Czechoslovak First Ice Hockey League championship, in 1979, and was twice a silver-medalist for Czechoslovakia at the World Championship.
12 (-3). Spartak Moscow (8-12, 21 pts.): Spartak have acquired forward Alexander Dergachyov, a 2015 draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings, from SKA for financial compensation. The Red-and-Whites also picked up forward Artyom Podshendyalov off waivers from CSKA. Solid pick-ups, both of them.
13 (–) Dinamo Riga (3-17, 8 pts.): The Riga team’s September nightmare came to an end, finally; Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win over Slovan in Bratislava was Dinamo’s first victory since August 28th, with 14 straight losses have accrued in the interim. New signing Nikolai Zherdev (two goals, including the winner) and goalie Jānis Kalniņš (50 saves) were the heroes of the slump-breaker.
1 (–). Ak Bars Kazan (13-5, 41 pts.): Goalie Emil Garipov has been on a nice run lately, stopping 143 of 149 shots over his past five starts (that’s a tidy .960 sv%). Ak Bars have gone 4-1 in those games, with their only loss coming via the shootout against Dynamo Moscow today.
2 (–). Avangard Omsk Oblast (13-6, 35 pts.): An update on Nikolai Lemtyugov, seriously injured in yesterday’s game against Barys. Club Doctor Dmitry Batushenko reports that the forward’s condition is “stable, with no complications,” and that while his season is obviously over, his career may resume at some point. Avangard’s opponents on Tuesday, Barys Astana, also sent along best wishes (there was nothing whatsoever dirty about the play that led to injury; in fact, it appeared a completely innocuous if firm collision).
3 (+3). Salavat Yulaev Ufa (11-9, 33 pts.): In addition to releasing team captain Denis Kulyash this week (see the Avtomobilist entry below), Salavat Yulaev have signed veteran defensive forward Mikhail Yunkov to a contract. Kulyash promptly signed with…
4 (+3). Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (11-8, 33 pts.): The Urals team made a major player move this week, signing just-released Salavat Yulaev captain Denis Kulyash. The 34-year-old defenceman can provide some offense from the back; he scored 12-10-22 last season in 58 games, although this year had him at just 2-3-5 through 16 contests.
5 (-2). Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (10-9, 33 pts.): Neftekhimik players Damir Sharipzyanov and Dan Sexton took a turn as conductors on one of the city’s trams last week. The two dispensed tickets, signed autographs, and the like. The best bit? A small black cat joined them at one point, and went to sleep on one of the seats (pictures of the event can be seen here).
6 (-1). Metallurg Magnitogorsk (11-9, 33 pts.): Czech forward Tomáš Filippi is having a nice season. His previous KHL points high was 30, in 60 games in 2015-16. But, having drawn some time alongside Sergei Mozyakin and Jan Kovář in 2017-18, the 25-year-old has already scored 6-10-16 in just 20 matches. And he leads the entire team with a +5 rating.
7 (+1). Barys Astana (10-9, 32 pts.): No surprise that SKA players occupy the top three spots in the points race, but it may be something of a mild shock that places four and five belong to guys from Barys. Nigel Dawes (18 gp, 18-5-23) leads the league in goals currently, while his linemate and provider Linden Vey, not at all coincidentally, does likewise with assists (19 gp, 4-19-23).
8 (-4). Kunlun Red Star Beijing (10-9, 31 pts.): Last week I mentioned the scheduling conflict that KRS faced for October; well, that situation has been completely resolved. It appeared that the team would have to play some “home” games on the road this month, but they faced Lada and Metallurg in Shanghai as scheduled, and it now appears that they will be able to play their four remaining home dates of the month there as well.
9 (–). Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast (9-10, 26 pts.): A pair of players left Sibir in the past few days; forward Ignat Zemchenko was traded to Severstal for cash, while defenceman Adam Polášek had his contract terminated by mutual consent (see above). Both players, but Polášek in particular, will be missed as Sibir attempt to return to the KHL playoffs.
10 (–). Traktor Chelyabinsk (8-11, 24 pts.): Traktor could really stand to see a return to form by defenceman Kirill Koltsov, who has always been something of a favourite of mine. He was once one of the KHL’s premier scoring rearguards (his best season: a superb 18-30-48 in 60 games for Salavat Yulaev in 2014-15), and he was not bad last season for Traktor at 60 gp, 12-17-29. However, time may have caught up to him (Koltsov is 34), as he has managed just 1-3-4 in 19 games this season, and is a team-worst -9 to boot. Sadness.
11 (–). Amur Khabarovsk (7-13, 22 pts.): Amur have signed a pair of forwards; 20-year-old Danil Yurtaikin (a promising 33 gp, 13-16-29 in the VHL the last couple of seasons) and veteran Canadian Alexandre Picard, a former Columbus Blue Jacket who played last season in Czechia. To make room for Picard, Amur have cut ties with forward Marek Kvapil. And — a bright spot in a difficult season — Amur downed Metallurg Magnitgorsk 5-4 in OT on Tuesday, marking the second time in 2017-18 that they have defeated the defending East Conference champs.
12 (+1). Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk (7-12, 18 pts.): Ugra forward Andrei Ankudinov has been suspended for four games for checking to the head or neck after an incident versus Kunlun Red Star last week. On the plus side, Ugra have re-acquired, from Dynamo Moscow, goalie Alexander Sharychenkov, who did ok work for them last season (41 gp, .920 sv%, which was right about league-average).
13 (-1). Admiral Vladivostok (5-14, 17 pts.): Admiral have become the fifth KHL team this season to switch coaches, when Alexander Andriyevsky stepped down earlier this week. Andriyevsky had been with the team for two seasons, making the playoffs both times. But 2017-18’s dismal 5-14 start, and an accompanying precipitous drop in attendance at the Fetisov Arena, have meant that a change was needed. Long-time Admiral Assistant Coach Fredrik Stillman, of Sweden, takes over as interim.
14 (–). Lada Tolyatti (4-16, 13 pts.): One problem that has contributed to Lada’s lowly standings position is an absolutely feeble powerplay. Lada have had 68 man-advantage situations, but have found the net on just five of them for a league-worst 7.4% conversion rate. An overall shooting percentage of 5.93%, second-worst in the KHL ahead of only Dinamo Riga, has not helped either, but that at least may correct itself in due time.
Thank you for reading!