For coach Mike Keenan, December 25 would normally be a brief respite from the hockey program. In Russia, though, Christmas comes later and December 25 is just another working day. But it’s a tradition that Keenan may well be happy to adopt permanently after his Metallurg Magnitogorsk team presented him with a 6-1 win at Spartak which nudged it closer to the top of the Eastern Conference tree.
Magnitka put on a performance which captured the festive spirit perfectly: anxious anticipation in a scoreless first period, followed by a joyful explosion of excitement as four goals in five second-period minutes put the result beyond doubt. The home side, meanwhile, seemed inspired by Santa Claus – dressed in traditional red-and-white and giving goals away seemingly to all comers.
The chief beneficiary was Francis Pare, who picked up his first KHL points in his third appearance for Metallurg. He got two goals, including the game-winner, to tick another item off his coach’s wish-list. Now Keenan will be hoping that goals from outside his prolific first line are for the whole season, and not just for Christmas. That ever-reliable troika meanwhile chipped in once again with a goal for Danis Zaripov and assists from Sergei Mozyakin and Jan Kovar.
For Spartak the only bright spot of the evening was 20-year-old forward Vladimir Peshekhonov getting his first ever goal, but the Moscow team will be hoping that the up-coming New Year festivities bring greater cheer.
… and a treat for Torchelli
Keenan wasn’t the only foreign coach to celebrate Christmas with a convincing win. CSKA’s John Torchelli saw his team beat Vityaz 5-2 in its last game before heading out to the Spengler Cup.
Alexander Radulov, who faced criticism following his performances for Team Russia in the Channel 1 Cup, scored a fine goal, only to be outdone by young Nikolai Prokhorkin shortly after. Receiving a pass in the right-hand channel, the 20-year-old deked his way past Igor Golovkov before scoring on Ivan Lisutin. He finished with 1+1, including the game-winner.
Ak Bars finds its goal touch
Two weeks after grinding out a narrow home win over Torpedo, Ak Bars turned on the offense to power to a 6-4 success in Nizhny Novgorod. Admittedly the visiting forwards were aided by some indifferent goaltending, with Vitaly Koval being withdrawn then reinstated after his replacement, Sergei Mashkovtsev, gave up two poor rebounds in quick succession leaving the scoreline at 2-5.
Tim Stapleton was the night’s chief beneficiary, finishing with 2+1, while former Torpedo hero Mikhail Varnakov got the sixth goal of the night for Ak Bars to stem a potential fightback. The Kazan team strengthens its grip on the Eastern Conference, opening a four-point cushion over Barys.
Around the league
The international break seemed to help SKA, with the Petersburg side snapping a three-game losing streak on its return to action at Severstal. The margin of victory was slender, but goals from Alexander Kucheryavenko and Igor Makarov earned a 2-1 success. SKA now trails Dynamo Moscow by a single point at the top of the table.
Donbass clawed back a 0-2 deficit to tie with Traktor before winning in a shoot-out thanks to Lukas Kaspar. The visitor took charge in the first period, led by a fine goal from Andrei Kostitsyn, but Donbass recovered in the third thanks to goals from Maxim Yakutsenya and Jan Kolar.
Andreas Engqvist scored twice as Atlant beat Neftekhimik 4-1. Despite the win, the Moscow Region side is four points adrift of a play-off spot.