Andy Potts,
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It’s a tight battle in the Eastern Conference right now, but Ak Bars opened a three-point gap at the top of the table thanks to a comfortable win at Slovan. Forward Jiri Sekac followed up Monday’s hat-trick with two more goals. Neftekhimik leapt from ninth place to join a raft of teams on 21 points after blanking Dinamo Riga; the Latvians have now lost 10 in a row. In the early game, Sochi won 5-3 at Traktor despite two goals from Igor Polygalov.

Sochi claims third straight win

Traktor Chelyabinsk 3 HC Sochi 5 (0-2, 1-0, 2-3)

Sochi was never behind in this game, but still needed two late goals to subdue a spirited Traktor team.

The two sides came into Wednesday’s clash with recent results that mirrored one another: Traktor had lost its last two, Sochi was victorious in its previous pair of games. And the visitor made the more confident start, with Sean Collins and Andrei Ivanov opening a 2-0 lead in the first period.

Traktor recovered, and drew level thanks to goals from Nick Bailen and Igor Polygalov, only for Svyatoslav Grebenshchikov to make it 3-2 for the visitor in the 45th minute.

The crucial action came in a rush. Polygalov tied the scores again on the power play in the 54th minute, Bailen collecting the assist. But, back to full strength, it took Sochi less than a minute to regain the advantage. Simon Onerud converted Casey Wellman’s pass from the boards. Onerud’s goal proved to be the game winner; Evgeny Lapenkov added a fifth late on to complete the scoring.

Photo: 20.09.17. KHL Championship 2017/18. Traktor (Chelyabinsk) - HC Sochi (Sochi)

Tight at the top in the East

Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 2 Dinamo Riga 0 (1-0, 1-0, 0-0)

Neftekhimik climbed back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference after an assured victory at home to Dinamo Riga. It’s evidence of how tight that section is that, after Ak Bars in top spot, just two points separate second-placed Salavat Yulaev and Metallurg Magnitogorsk in ninth. Neftekhimik are one of four teams with 21 points.

However, while Andrei Nazarov’s Neftekhimik is showing evidence of a return to form after some indifferent results, the Latvians remain in trouble. Today’s loss was the 10th in a row for Dinamo, and leaves the team rooted to the foot of the KHL table with five points from 14 games.

Pavel Kulikov opened the scoring in the 15th minute after Ilya Arkalov collected a wayward Marat Khairullin shot behind the net and fed his team-mate as Dinamo’s defense dithered. In the 36th minute, Pavel Zdunov doubled the advantage, firing home from close range after a scramble in front of Justin Peters’ net.

The game brought up an individual milestone for Dinamo’s Gints Meija: the forward made his 400th appearance for the club, but was unable to add to his 87-point career tally. Home goalie Ilya Ezhov made 27 saves.

Sekac maintains a hot streak for Ak Bars

Slovan Bratislava 3 Ak Bars Kazan 6 (1-1, 1-2, 1-3)

There might be a tight battle brewing in the Eastern Conference, but there’s a familiar name on top. Ak Bars moved three points clear of the pack thanks to this success in Bratislava, with Jiri Sekac continuing his productive week.

The Czech forward hit a hat-trick against Dinamo Riga on Monday and was back on the goal trail again tonight. In two games this week, he already has five goals and three assists. Struggling Lada faces an unenviable task trying to stop him on Friday.

It was a great Sekac pass to set up Justin Azevedo for Ak Bars’ opener in the sixth minute, but for a time he was in danger of being upstaged by Slovan’s recently-recruited Canadian defenseman Simon Despres. The 26-year-old got an assist on Juraj Mikus’ equalizer late in the first and put the host in front with his first KHL goal in the 25th minute.

Ak Bars, though, was behind for just 11 seconds. Mikhail Glukhov tied it up, then Sekac got the go-ahead goal just after the half-hour mark, rifling home a one-timer after the Slovan defense failed to pick up his movement to the net. Then came two goals in 60 seconds at the start of the third, with Dmitry Arkhipov getting his first of the season and Azevedo his second of the night – the latter assisted by Sekac.

Radek Smolenak pulled one back for Slovan, but the man of the moment Sekac responded with the best goal of the night. Released by Stepan Zakharchuk, he tortured Ivan Svarny before lifting a cute backhand flick beyond Jakub Stepanek to make it 6-3.

Andy Potts,
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Related clubs

Ak Bars (Kazan) Ak Bars (Kazan)
Dinamo (Riga) Dinamo (Riga)
Neftekhimik (Nizhnekamsk) Neftekhimik (Nizhnekamsk)
Slovan (Bratislava) Slovan (Bratislava)
HC Sochi (Sochi) HC Sochi (Sochi)
Traktor (Chelyabinsk) Traktor (Chelyabinsk)
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