The big game in Moscow ended with CSKA continuing its winning run against Spartak. The 3-1 scoreline did not wholly reflect the pressure that the Army Men imposed on the opposition for long periods, but could have been very different if Spartak had not had one goal disallowed and seen another effort hit the crossbar.
Elsewhere, Eduard Zankovets suffered an overtime defeat in his first game behind the bench at Slovan; Nikolai Zherdev scored twice to give Dinamo Riga its first victory in 15 attempts. Severstal won 2-1 at Vityaz, also in overtime.
CSKA vs Spartak is one of the defining rivalries of Russian sport. In truth, it’s often a bigger showdown on the football field, where the two clubs feel their natural position is at the pinnacle of the game. On the ice, historically, CSKA has always had the edge – although the Red-and-Whites had a fine habit of disrupting the Soviet-era powerhouse.
In recent years, though, Spartak has endured a tough time in this fixture. You have to go back to Sep. 12, 2013 to find the team’s last victory over the Army Men; last season CSKA twice recorded 6-1 victories.
Saturday’s meeting, the 211th between the teams, went the way of the form book. In truth, the 3-1 scoreline, sealed with a last-minute empty-net goal, rather flattered Spartak. CSKA got 43 shots on Nikita Bespalov’s net; the goalie performed heroically to stop 40 of them and keep his team in the game.
The early exchanges suggested there would be little doubt about the outcome. The host took the lead after 94 seconds through Alexander Popov. He was presented with a simple finish from close range after Nikita Nesterov’s shot rattled off a couple of skates and dropped onto Popov’s stick. However, despite CSKA continuing to dominate the play, the second goal was a long time in coming. It was already late in the second session when Sergei Shumakov scored on the power play to extend the lead. Before that, Spartak had a goal disallowed: Alexei Pepelyayev’s 27th-minute effort found the net, but was ruled out for goalie interference as Lukas Radil collided with Lars Johansson.
Spartak reduced the arrears early in the third through Artyom Podshendyalov, playing his second game for the club after moving from Dynamo Moscow. Igor Mirnov then rattled the piping as the Red-and-Whites looked for an equalizer, but Sergei Andronov had the final say with that empty-net goal to put the issue beyond doubt.
Both of these team have found life hard this season, and both have parted company with their head coaches. Slovan dismissed Milos Riha on Friday, and appointed Eduard Zankovets – last seen at Barys – in his place. Dinamo, still under the interim guidance of Girts Ankipans following the departure of Sandis Ozolins, was seeking its first victory since August 28.
Zankovets saw his team generate plenty of offense in regulation, but also observed his forwards’ difficulties in turning chances into goals. Marek Viedensky gave Slovan a 15th-minute lead but Nikolai Zherdev, playing only his fourth game for the Latvians, tied it up late in the first period. After the intermission, Karl Stollery’s power play goal gave Dinamo a short-lived advantage; Simon Despres made it 2-2 within a minute. At the second intermission, the scores were level, but Slovan had a 35-17 advantage on the shot count; visiting goalie Janis Kalnins was destined to finish with 50 saves on the night.
The final stanza was more even, but could not produce a winner. It was only in the dying seconds of overtime that Zherdev got the decider for Dinamo, his third in two games for his new club and enough to snap a 14-game losing streak.
Defenseman Alexander Yevseyenkov got the overtime winner as Severstal picked up a handy verdict against one of its immediate rivals in the race for the playoffs. The Steelmen picked up two points from the game thanks to his goal 43 seconds into the extras, and move level with Vityaz on 26 points. Vityaz retains eighth place, but Severstal has a game in hand.
The teams are closely matched in the league standings, and were closely matched on the ice as well. The two goals came barely a minute apart early in the second period: Sergei Monakhov put Severstal in front, but Alexander Kulagin responded almost immediately.
Yevseyenkov’s winner was a moment that Vityaz goalie Mikhail Biryukov would surely like to have back. The D-man fired in a shot from out wide, and the goalie had a decent view of it but somehow allowed the puck to squirm between his pads and give Severstal the verdict.