The start of a new week in late November is rarely a cause for great joy – but the prospect of two big match-ups in the KHL lightened the gloom for hockey lovers everywhere.
Those clashes of the titans – defending champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk against double Gagarin Cup-winner Dynamo Moscow, followed by the latest round of the SKA – CSKA rivalry – certainly lived up to their billing. We had Sergei Mozyakin taking his points haul to 50 for the season, Danis Zaripov’s 100th goal for Magnitka and a super save from young Ilya Samsonov in the Urals.
Then, beside the Neva, the two Army Clubs served up a humdinger of a nine-goal thriller. Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and a stunning assist for Pavel Datsyuk, while Dinar Khafizullin was the unlikely hero with an improbable game-winning goal from a D-man who usually stays at home.
The eagerly-awaited third instalment of the Army Derby produced a blistering game full of rapid changes in fortune. Goals came in groups as both sides saw their fortunes ebb and flow before SKA skated to victory.
Initially, SKA seemed set to make serene progress. A 66 second burst early on saw Ilya Kovalchuk go coast-to-coast before dropping off the puck for Pavel Datsyuk to score before Nikita Gusev pounced on a turnover in center ice and went through to beat Ilya Sorokin in a one-on-one duel.
CSKA, though, had no interest in merely playing the fall guy to SKA’s offense and set about turning the game around. Three minutes and three goals later, and the visitor led. Greg Scott, who snapped a two-month goal drought with a brace against Barys on Saturday, added two more after Sergei Andronov had pulled one back for CSKA. Less than 11 minutes played, and the score was already 2-3.
After all that, some calm was needed. The scoreline remained unchanged until late in the second period when a flashpoint around the SKA net saw the action bubble over once again. Andrei Zubarev took exception to Andronov’s challenge on goalie Igor Shestyorkin and the two ended up sitting out major penalties. With CSKA’s Ivan Telegin also getting an interference call, the home team had a power play – and promptly scored twice in 15 seconds to retake the lead.
Maxim Chudinov got the first on 35:54, flashing a shot through the five-hole off Evgeny Dadonov’s pass back from the goal line. CSKA was back to full strength, but still fell behind within seconds. Defenseman Dinar Khafizullin only had one previous goal this season, which might explain why CSKA allowed him to cruise from beyond his own goal line into a shooting position before going over Sorokin’s shoulder.
Could CSKA respond once again? There were chances, most notably when Andrei Svetlakov and Ivan Telegin fashioned an opening that Shestyorkin snuffed out. Instead it was SKA that took a decisive two-goal lead with nine minutes left. Swiftly turning defense into attack, Vadim Shipachyov brought the puck into center ice and fed Gusev on the left. Gusev slung a pass across the rink where Dadonov was waiting to unleash a one-timer from the face-off spot, giving Sorokin no chance and reinstating SKA’s two-goal lead. An empty-net goal for Kovalchuk, with Shestyorkin’s second assist of the game, added to the visitor’s woes.
The home victory gives Oleg Znarok’s team a 2-1 lead in face-to-face meetings between the two Army Clubs, and extends SKA’s lead at the top of the KHL table to seven points. For SKA, it’s a return to winning ways after Avtomobilist ended that’s 15-game unbeaten run last time out; for CSKA it’s the end of a four-game winning streak.
Monday in Magnitogorsk may have been dark and cold – it was -20C on the streets as this evening’s game got started – but Metallurg stoked a fire with a five-star performance at home to Dynamo.
The defending champion produced some clinical finishing to power to a convincing victory in a game that was less one-sided than the final scoreline suggested. Despite its heavy loss, Dynamo outshot Magnitka 35-30 but found no way past Ilya Samsonov as the young goalie recorded his first shut-out of the season. That included a dazzling close-range save to deny Ansel Galimov as the Blue-and-White offense endured a frustrating evening.
No such frustration at the other end, though, as Metallurg delivered a masterclass in taking chances. From Viktor Antipin’s 10th minute opener to Jan Kovar’s strike in the 46th, this was a powerful attacking display. Sergei Mozyakin took his personal tally to 50 points for the season with a goal and two assists, and there were also markers for Danis Zaripov and Tomas Filippi. Defensively, Dynamo was bewildered. Young goalie Alexander Zalivin kept his place ahead of fit-again Alexander Yeryomenko but was unable to find an answer to Magnitka’s prowess.
Admittedly, he wasn’t always helped by his defense at times. Mat Robinson lost the puck too easily in center ice to allow Antipin to skate through for the opening goal before Ilya Nikulin’s blunder gifted the third strike to Filippi early in the second period. In between times Mozyakin produced a defense-splitting pass to give Zaripov his 100th goal for Metallurg.
Mozyakin made it 4-0 on the power play in the 36th minute with a trademark howitzer of a shot before turning provider to set up Kovar for a balancing act as he turned home a dangerous pass while standing on one skate to keep off the paint. It was an acrobatic feat that summed up the contrasting fortunes of the two teams in front of goal and set the seal on a deservedly emphatic Metallurg win.
Magnitka moves on to 71 points, strengthening its position at the top of the Eastern Conference. Dynamo, meanwhile, remains in eighth place in the West with its proud record of never missing out on a KHL playoff in some jeopardy as the battle for the top eight intensifies.