Result of the day
Dinamo Riga - Ak Bars 2-4. One of the websites previewing the match-up between the Riga and Kazan clubs had the heading, “Can Ak Bars reach the play-offs?” Is someone really entertaining the thought that Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s team will not feature in the League’s best 16? Then again, until this match the Kazan men were languishing in 13th place, and we are already at the halfway stage of the regulation championship. It makes you wonder…

Ak Bars are certainly having one of their least impressive seasons. The highest they have reached this year is 10th place, and they did not even stay there for long.

Things are, in fact, getting better for the champions of Russia. It is twelve weeks since they were last outside the play-off zone, but are the positive changes coming fast enough? Yet there are no serious grounds for doubting that they will grace the play-offs, or that they will once again turn into a formidable force.

The day’s other matches produced the following results: Dinamo Minsk – Neftekhimik 3-5, Dynamo Moscow – Lada 3-0, Avtomobilist – Avangard 0-4, Metallurg Magnitogorsk – Barys 4-0, Traktor – Salavat Yulaev 1-4, SKA – Vityaz 1:0, Severstal – Torpedo 5-1, Atlant – CSKA 3-2 SO.

Atlant almost indestructible
Atlant are the KHL’s undisputed kings of the shoot-out, with five victories out of six this season. The Mytishchi goaltenders have conceded 10 penalty shots, while their outfield players have successfully converted 21.

Atlant are also a useful team in overtime, with two wins and no defeats. In the last six home games under Nikolai Borshchevsky, they have not once let their guests leave for home after 60 minutes, winning one game in overtime and the other five in shoot-outs.

Ramo catches Grahame
Avangard goaltender Karri Ramo kept his third clean sheet, equaling the club record for matches in the KHL. Last year, John Grahame was also unbeaten in goal in three of his 20 games. Now the Finnish keeper is a contender for the title of Avangard’s best goaltender in five years. In season 2005-06 Norm Maracle boasted five clean sheets.

Worst match for Barys
For the first time this season Barys have failed to breach their opponents’ defense. The team had scored at least one goal in a sequence of 38 games. Last season, Barys found themselves firing blanks three times: twice it was the Ak Bars goal which led a charmed life, and once - that of Dinamo Riga.

First winner
Despite the fact that Salavat Yulaev’s Patrick Thoresen, with 14 goals, is one of his club’s top three snipers, and that the Ufa men already boast a score of victories, the Norwegian forward today added his first winning goal to his account. Currently, the most deadly at Salavat Yulaev for decisive strikes is Viktor Kozlov, with four winning goals to his name.

Koshechkin out in front
Metallurg Magnitogorsk goaltender Vasily Koshechkin now leads the table for keeping clean sheets, with five flawless matches already this season. Two of these came early season, when Vasily was playing for Lada. Koshechkin this year concedes an average of only 1.78 goals per game, although his career best is 1.59, achieved back in 2005-06.

One-way traffic
Both teams usually manage to score in the hotly contested clashes between Dynamo Moscow and Lada. The last time one of the protagonists turned out to be toothless was Lada’s 2-0 win back in 2005-06. Until today, the Blue-and-Whites had not kept the Volga men from scoring since September 13, 2004, when the Muscovites won with the same scoreline.

Minsk start to change
Dinamo Minsk this season have had a torrid time when playing in the second period. Until today’s meeting with Neftekhimik, the Belarusian club occupied 23rd place in the League, having lost 19 in designated periods of matches, 20 times failing to score from the 20th to the 40th minute. So their 3-0 second-period win against Neftekhimik was a break from the routine, although the Minsk men’s brief show of passion did not help them.

Nikulin catches Zubov
The struggle to be the defenseman who sets up the most goals continues unabated. Ilya Nikulin (pictured) twice enabled his comrades to score in the game against Dinamo Riga, bringing his total of assists to 17, catching up with his fellow defender at SKA, Sergei Zubov. In first place is Kevin Dallman of Barys with 20. The record for the previous championship belongs to Peter Podhradsky, whose assists set up 32 goals.

Loss of control
Torpedo’s Czech attacker Pavel Brendl has already played 88 matches in the KHL championship, but had never before in his career in Russia been sent off till the end of the game, his penalty being longer than the time he spent in play. The sternest punishment he had earned before was last year when his team lost to Atlant, and Pavel received 10 minutes on the bench for ill-disciplined behavior.

Figures of the day
44 shots at the Vityaz goal by the SKA players.

63 shots on goal during the SKA v Vityaz game, and also in the meeting between Atlant and CSKA.

6 shots on goal by Avangard attacker Alexander Svitov, SKA forward Maxim Rybin, his CSKA colleague Denis Parshin and Barys defenseman Kevin Dallman.

27 minutes 7 seconds spent in play by CSKA defenseman Konstantin Korneyev.

70% of 20 face-offs won by Dinamo Riga attacker Janis Sprukts.

Key players
Vasily Koshechkin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk). Saved 27 shots. Has kept three clean sheets in the last four games.

Evgeny Varlamov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk). Scored a goal, made an assist, and finished the game with a +1, having spent 22 minutes 22 seconds in play.

Ilya Nikulin (Ak Bars). Scored the winning goal and made two assists during his 22 minutes 18 seconds on the ice.

Sergei Mozyakin (Atlant). Featured in all three of his team’s goals. Scored once, made one assist, and converted a penalty shot in the shoot-out.

Jiri Hudler (Dynamo Moscow). Scored two goals, one of which was the winner.

Igor Volkov (Avangard). Scored two goals, fired four shots on target, earning a +2.

“After the first period, which we won 3-0, I warned my players not to relax.” - Neftekhimik head coach Vladimir Krikunov.

“When we were trailing 2-0 it became obvious that the players didn’t have enough morale and strength to change the game.” - Avtomobilist head coach Marek Sykora.

“After conceding those quick goals, to some extent we lost our heads.” - Torpedo head coach Evgeny Popikhin.

“When we face strong opposition, we simply cannot cope with the tempo, we lose because of the higher class of the opponents.” - Traktor head coach Andrei Nazarov.

“The attractive hockey just didn’t happen for us at first.” - Salavat Yulaev head coach Vyacheslav Bykov.

Alexei Shevchenko,

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