Only one team managed a 100% record during the past week, and against all the odds it was lowly Vityaz, from Chekhov out in Moscow Region, who usually hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Andrei Nazarov’s men are on a four-game winning streak during which they even humbled the last two Gagarin Cup winners, Salavat Yulaev and Ak Bars. Despite these heroics they still languish at the bottom of the Western Conference, although they have closed the gap considerably.
Two teams shared the pain of being beaten three times during the week, but whereas Metallurg Novokuznetsk’s defeats were on the road and they grabbed a point from Yugra in Khanty-Mansiysk, there is nothing to say in mitigation for Spartak. The Muscovites’ abysmal form has already claimed its first victim, with defensive coach Alexander Titov relieved of his duties, and we can expect further changes to the personnel quite soon. Viktor Pachkalin believes the team needs strengthening with two more defenders.
Two players each boast a haul of five goals for the week: Brandon Bochenski of Barys and Maxim Pestushko of Neftekhimik. It seems the Nizhnekamsk club has pulled itself together after its shaky start to the campaign and now has its sights firmly set on a place in the play-off zone, although this will certainly be no cakewalk. Many have expected great things from Maxim, the spearpoint of Neftekhimik’s offense, and now he is beginning to show what he can do.
Nor should anyone be surprised at Bochenski’s lethal form, as he has always been one of the most dangerous attackers at Barys.
Petr Vrana’s battling hat-trick in Yekaterinburg was still not enough to earn three points for Amur, although it did keep save the game for the Khabarovsk men and they overcame Avtomobilist in the shootout.
By far the most prolific assistant of the week was another Barys man, Lukas Kaspar, who set up five goals in three games. Curiously, the Czech forward had only assisted on one goal in his previous 14 outings.
Peace broke out all across the KHL last week, with fights few and far between, but a handful of players nonetheless managed to incur hefty penalties. Most notable of these was Traktor forward Jan Bulis, who picked up 34 minutes against Sibir. SKA’s Kirill Koltsov first received 10 minutes for illegal equipment but earned himself 20 more for being abusive, while Atlant’s Nikolai Zherdev expressed similar disapproval to the referee, who punished him with 30 minutes. Finally, Bogdan Kiselevich of Severstal was handed 25 minutes for illegal use of the knee.
The longest shutout series of the week belonged to Matt Dalton (pictured) in the Vityaz goal, who stayed unbeaten for 107 minutes against the formidable offensive forces of Salavat Yulaev and Ak Bars. This week, however, he might be overtaken by SKA’s Jakub Stepanek, who has kept his goal intact for the last 90 minutes.
A second coach has joined the ranks of the unemployed this season. Barys has dispensed with the services of Andrei Khomutov and replaced him with former head coach Andrei Shayanov, whose first game back in charge ended in defeat to Amur, although he followed this with two victories. Khomutov has been at the helm of four clubs in Russia and the KHL, and has now twice failed to see out his contract.
While Khomutov’s dismissal was hardly a shock, the news from Avangard was sensational. The club has shown the door to general manager Anatoly Bardin. The board was unhappy with both the selection of players and the performances of the team. It is not yet known who will replace Bardin, but the press has already suggested three possible candidates: Igor Larionov, Pavel Bure and Ravil Yakubov.
On the move
Leaving Ak Bars for Neftekhimik is forward Dmitry Obukhov, who the club had disciplined several times for his off-the-ice misdemeanors, while Evgeny Lapenkov moves in the opposite direction. It seems the Kazan men are the clear winners in this exchange.
Nizhnekamsk welcomed another forward to the ranks: Yegor Milovzorov arrived to replace Anton Krysanov, who moved to Yugra. So far Neftekhimik appears to be the winner in this deal, with Milovzorov notching five points in two games while Krysanov has just a single assist to show from his one appearance.
Two players in the KHL face the frustration of a lengthy lay-off. Torpedo forward Ryan Vesce will miss the rest of the current championship, with his account frozen at nine points from 15 games. To fill the gap in their front lines the Nizhny Novgorod men have called upon Robert Nilsson, who began the season with Ufa but was later farmed out to the lower league.
CSKA’s defense has suffered a significant loss: Yakov Rylov has damaged his shoulder and underwent surgery last Sunday. He faces up to two months on the sidelines – all the more unfortunate as Rylov had just been called up to the national team.
Quote of the week
“I’m an avid gamer. Every player has his own way to unwind after games or training. Some stroll in the park, some watch movies, some have other ways. So I don’t see anything bad in it – it has no effect on my hockey. In fact, right now I’m searching for a new game, and I’ve already asked my nephew in Finland to help me,” – Avangard goaltender Karri Ramo talks about his passions outside hockey.
Alexei Shevchenko, special to khl.ru