Danis Zaripov made his long-awaited return to the KHL when he appeared for Ak Bars against Lokomotiv … but the much-titled forward could not help his team escape a 4-1 defeat. In Friday’s other game, Sochi surprised runaway leader for the second time this season when Ivan Larichev’s late goal secured a 2-1 win.
It was supposed to be a celebration of Danis Zaripov’s return. A return on two fronts – back to Ak Bars, where his long, successful spell ended four seasons earlier, and back to hockey after appealing against his two-year doping ban. The titled forward, who won two Gagarin Cups and a Russian Superleague title in Kazan, received a rapturous reception from the home crowd every time he appeared on the video cube, never mind ever time he stepped on the ice. In total, Zaripov played 22 shifts for 17 minutes of ice time as he linked up with Vladimir Tkachyov and Rob Klinkhammer. However, on a difficult night for his team his most notable contribution was an error in the build-up to Loko’s second goal.
That struggle was at least partly because Lokomotiv came to Kazan without checking the script for the evening and duly steamrollered the festivities with a 4-1 win. The visitor had the better of the game from the start, even if it took some time to convert that edge into goals. Once Daniil Apalkov opened the scoring early in the second period, though, Loko soon jumped to a 3-0 lead. Brandon Kozun made it 2-0 after Petri Kontiola intercepted a loose pass from Zaripov, then Denis Mosalyov added a third.
There was some resistance in the final frame when Artyom Lukoyanov pulled a goal back, but Kozun had the last word as Lokomotiv enjoyed a convincing victory.
With the KHL’s coaches desperately trying to find a way to stop the SKA juggernaut powering through the season, there could be a lot of attention paid to videos of Sochi’s play. The Black Sea team memorably ended SKA’s winning streak after 20 games and today inflicted only a fourth loss of the season on the defending champion. Moreover, it was only the second loss SKA suffered in regulation, and the first time it was defeated on the road.
Not surprisingly, the success stemmed from solid goaltending: Dmitry Shikin made 41 saves as SKA, as usual, had the lion’s share of the scoring chances. But Sochi dug in, absorbed the pressure and showed a willingness to attack when it could. And one of those break-outs, in the 28th minute, saw Vadim Khlopotov get clean through on Mikko Koskinen to score the opening goal. However, that lead did not last long. A SKA power play saw the visitor install itself at the other end of the ice, and despite a flurry of fine saves from Shikin, Ilya Kovalchuk tied the scores off a Vyacheslav Voynov feed.
With half the game to play, the visiting fans surely believed their team would go ahead and take the win. But Sochi had other ideas. Stubborn in defense, frustrating SKA’s stellar forwards, the Black Sea boys worked hard and eventually got their reward. Ivan Larichev’s 55th minute goal settled the outcome; Sochi’s head coach Sergei Zubov demonstrated that he’s the man with the plan to stop SKA.