Into the Home Stretch!
“Life is about the journey, not the destination,” said somebody, at some time or other. I’m not sure if that phrase applies to hockey seasons as well as to life, but it is interesting to take a look not just at whether teams are occupying a playoff spot at the moment, but also at how they managed to get there (wherever “there” in the standings may be). So read on, for talk of the KHL’s 14-game splits as we enter the 2017-18 regular season’s home stretch.
The 2017-18 KHL season is 56 games long, which breaks down conveniently into 14-game quarters, with 42 points available in each. As of today, most teams are at right about the three-quarter mark (42 games); some are a couple of matches short of that, and some are one or two games beyond, but this is a good enough spot to call the season 75% done and take a look. So here follows a chart, showing what the teams have accomplished, as shown by their points ratios (i.e. points gained divided by points available) in each of the season’s first three 14-game quarters.
Some notes: teams are sorted by their overall points ratio so far, including any “fourth quarter” games they may have played. For each quarter, I have marked the top five teams in green, and the bottom five in red (including ties, in both cases). The number in brackets after the team’s name is the total number of games played through December 20th. Finally, and just for reference, eighth place by points ratio (i.e. the putative final playoff spot) in the West Conference is currently held by Severstal Cherepovets (.476 overall points ratio), while in the East it is Salavat Yulaev Ufa (.484). So that is what teams are basically aiming at.
Here’s the chart, followed by thought or two about what it reveals of each team.
SKA St. Petersburg: Ok, they’re slipping, but when your worst quarter is tied for fifth-best by any team in the current season, there’s little to worry about.
CSKA Moscow: Having won 35 out of a possible 36 points in the third quarter, with two games of it still to play, the old Red Army team is slowly but surely reeling in their St. Petersburg rivals.
Jokerit Helsinki: They’ve been retreating after a spectacular start, and the third-quarter points ratio is rather ordinary. Still a very good team though.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl: Odd to think that they fired their coach just two-and-a-half months ago! But Dmitry Kvartalnov seems to have settled in well behind the Lokomotiv bench.
Ak Bars Kazan: Still a solid season, as always, from Ak Bars, but the points ratio splits are trending in a bad direction. Shockingly, they’re probably the second-best team in Tatarstan at the moment, behind the next squad on this list.
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk: There’s been no bigger on-ice story this season than Neftekhimik. Andrei Nazarov, despite the many checkers of his past, must be in the conversation for Coach of the Year, and his time emphasized it today with a comprehensive 3-0 win over their Tatar rivals Ak bars.
Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg: Another impressive surprise campaign, if perhaps less so than Neftekhimik’s. The experienced Vladimir Krikunov may get some Coach of the Year votes as well.
Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod: The Nizhny Novgorod side has been consistently good, despite the departures of a number of key players for financial reasons (the latest: forward Jan Muršak).
Avangard Omsk: They’ve been backing up for a while this season, as exemplified by a 5-1 defeat to lowly Ugra to finish off the third quarter.
Metallurg Magnitogorsk: Early November’s coaching change (from Ilya Vorobyov to Viktor Kozlov) seems to have worked! Even more impressively, Metallurg compiled most of that excellent third quarter without the injured Sergei Mozyakin.
HK Sochi: Consistently among the playoff sides once again, despite their financial shortcomings, and they have already beaten SKA twice this season.
Dynamo Moscow: That second-quarter hiccup aside, the past summer’s turmoil does not seem to have hurt Dynamo too much; this is a very solid team, at least most of the time.
Traktor Chelyabinsk: A season remarkably similar to Amur’s (see below), except that Traktor’s first quarter was not so disastrous. And that may make all the difference when the playoff spots are handed out.
Barys Astana: The Kazakh club had a tremendous start, and even topped the East Conference for a bit. But it’s all slip-sliding away at the moment, and Barys are fighting for their playoff lives.
Salavat Yulaev Ufa: Another campaign falling into disappointment, but a recent four-game winning streak might — might! — be a sign of a turnaround. A very important fourth quarter of the season awaits.
Severstal Cherepovets: They’ve been right on the playoff line pretty much since opening night. It’s been a brave fight for the post-season for the little northern team, and the final result of it may determine whether Severstal is a KHL club next season.
Amur Khabarovsk: The only team in the league to have managed both a bottom-five and a top-five quarter this season! Thanks to the latter, they’re in the thick of the playoff chase for the first time in years.
Spartak Moscow: They’ve been steadily tiptoeing up on the playoff places, and if that happy trend continues, they might just make it for the first time since 2010-11.
Sibir Novosibirsk: Despite the summer departures of their best skaters, Sibir are also hard in pursuit of a playoff place. They may well end up ruing that miserable second quarter, though.
Dinamo Minsk: Consistency is not always a virtue, and Dinamo now need their fourth quarter to be their best.
Kunlun Red Star Beijing: A competitive campaign for the first half was then absolutely torched by a dreadful third quarter. That season-opening run of five wins in seven road games is but a fond memory now.
Vityaz Moscow Oblast: They’ve had their moments, but it does not look like Vityaz have the horses for a second straight playoff appearance.
Admiral Vladivostok: Admiral need to figure out HK Sochi’s knack for winning despite financial dire straits.
Slovan Bratislava: The only team in the bottom five for all three quarters so far. Slovan were building a very nice third segment, with 15 points from their first eight games of it, but have since lost seven in a row, all in regulation.
Lada Tolyatti: Lada, whose KHL future hangs by a thread at the moment, hold the unenviable distinction of having posted the “worst best” quarter of any KHL team (i.e. every other club has at least one quarter that was better than Lada’s best).
Dinamo Riga: It’s far too late for any playoff talk, but here has been real, honest, improvement for Dinamo since they opened 2017-18 with the worst quarter any KHL team has had this season. Just in time, too, as they prepare to contest the Spengler Cup.
Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk: They just don’t have the resources, and the sun is likely setting on Ugra’s time as a KHL team.
Thank you for reading!