The current season has seen a changing of the guard among the Eastern Conference giants, with outsiders Traktor Chelyabinsk leading the table. At home to defending champion Salavat Yulaev, Traktor showed why: resolute defense and blistering counter-attacks brought a 2-1 win. Petri Kontiola and Alexander Ryazantsev got the crucial goals; Michael Garnett made 40 saves, with only Miroslav Blatak finding a way past him. After suffering heavy defeats to Salavat in past campaigns, Friday’s win confirms that Traktor are serious contenders this time around - and puts the Chelyabinsk side on top of the full KHL table.
SKA steps back
That top spot had long been occupied by SKA St. Petersburg, but when Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk took the high-flyers to a shoot-out that enabled Traktor to inch ahead by virtue of more wins in overtime. SKA did eventually prevail at Yugra - Vladimir Tarasenko adding the winning penalty shot to his opening goal in a 2-2 tie - and there is little doubt that the Army Men will top the Western Conference, but failing to find a winner in regulation time cost the Petersburg side overall leadership. However, the team had the consolation of welcoming back Maxim Afinogenov after a long injury lay-off.
Atlant Moscow Region became the sixth team from the West to mathematically confirm a play-off spot with a morale-boosting overtime win at Metallurg Magnitogorsk. For the home side, the exertions of overturning a 3-0 deficit to beat SKA in midweek seemed to take their toll; this time the roles were reversed when Sergei Mozyakin put Magnitka 2-0 up on 55:42, only for Atlant to retaliate immediately. Alexander Rybakov and Andrei Zubarev struck in quick succession to tie the game by 56:53; Jonas Andersson got the overtime winner.
Battle of the Barsi
The KHL’s two squadrons of snow leopards, Barys Astana and Ak Bars Kazan, did battle in Kazakhstan - and as usual it was Ak Bars which came out on top. The Kazan side has lost just twice in 21 KHL meetings with Barys, and an entertaining game ended 6-4 in its favor. Defenseman Denis Kulyash was the key man, scoring two including a short-handed effort, while both team changed goalies as the nets bulged at both ends.
For the past three seasons, games between Avangard Omsk and Dinamo Riga have been won by the away team - and it was no exception this time. Mihelis Redlihs followed up his starring show on Wednesday with the game-winning goal on Friday as Dinamo won 3-1 in Siberia. Redlihs struck on 45:02 after the teams had traded goals in the second period. The scoring was finished on 59:41 when Martins Karsums scored an empty-netter.
Nikolai Bushuyev took his tally to 10 points from 10 games as Avtomobilist beat Neftekhimik 2-1 in overtime. His equalizer on 47:19 put Avto on the road to a fifth win in those 10 games - a decent return for a team long since eliminated from the play-offs - but it left Neftekhimik’s players contemplating an unwelcome early holiday as their own play-off prospects now look to be extinguished.