SKA claimed the Opening Cup with a performance that lays down a marker for the coming campaign.
The KHL’s 10th season got off to a flying start with a high-quality game between two of the top teams in the league – but it was SKA’s early scoring that made the difference as Oleg Znarok’s team took control of the game in the first ten minutes.
It didn’t take long to see the first goal of the season – just 301 seconds, in fact. It was hardly the first incident of a game that began with three penalties in quick succession, but once SKA gained a 5-on-3 power play, the Gagarin Cup holder made its advantage count. Patrik Hersley got the goal, smashing home a one-timer off Pavel Datsyuk’s feed.
SKA, in theory, was short of scoring power after the summer departure of Vadim Shipachyov and Evgeny Dadonov, but there was little sign of any problem with the home offense. Inside 10 minutes it was 2-0. Nikita Gusev’s feed across the face of the net eluded everyone until it bounced back for Nikolai Prokhorkin, and the forward spun around and whipped a shot that Ilya Sorokin could do nothing to stop.
Despite its quick start, SKA did not have everything its own way. CSKA’s new-look first line of Popov, Petrov and Burdasov was proving to be a handful for the SKA defense but could not find a way past Mikko Koskinen. But it was two of CSKA’s new arrivals combined to halve the deficit midway through the second period when Kirill Kaprizov produced a great bit of skill, pulling off a wonderful dangle before feeding Mikhail Grigorenko for a wrister that was too good for Koskinen. The goal heralded a spell of CSKA domination, but the wiles of Datsyuk finally won a power play that relieved the pressure on SKA’s net.
And, just as the teams got back to equal strength, SKA extended its lead. A slightly ragged line change gave Patrik Hersley the chance to boom a pass out of defense; Ilya Kovalchuk raced down the left-hand channel and used the defenseman to screen a wrister that Ilya Sorokin could not stop.
CSKA came close to reducing the arrears once again when Maxim Shalunov pinged one off Koskinen’s bar in the dying seconds of the stanza, but SKA survived that alarm to take a commanding lead into the second intermission.
Things got even better for Znarok and his team at the start of the third thanks to a short-handed goal from Sergei Shirokov. It was a fine individual effort, wrestling the puck away from two defensemen on the boards and rushing the net. His shot took a helpful deflection off Bogdan Kiselevich to make it 4-1.
But CSKA would not roll over: Maxim Shalunov marked his debut for the Army Men with a goal just seconds later. Grigorenko supplied the feed; Shalunov faked a shot, wrong-footed the defense and beat Koskinen low on the stick side.
The Muscovites continued to push – the shot count was 30-20 in CSKA’s favor – but could not find a way to claw back the deficit. SKA produced the kind of disciplined defensive display we’ve come to expect from Znarok’s teams, and had Koskinen in reliable form behind them when required. That put the squeeze on CSKA’s offense and secured the first victory – and first silverware – of this anniversary season.