Avangard showed no signs of unease in its first ‘home’ game in Balashikha, downing Neftekhimik 4-2. SKA dispatched Sochi, Jokerit made it four wins from four with victory in Minsk and Nikita Filatov’s last-minute goal lifted Spartak past Vityaz.
It’s a long way from Omsk to Moscow – over 2,700km, in fact – but for the coming season, Avangard is making its home on the edge of Russia’s capital. Problems with Arena Omsk have forced the Hawks to relocate and the club decided to use the arena in Balashikha, the Moscow Region town formerly home to HC MVD.
The ‘home’ opener attracted a crowd of 5,116, mixing die-hard Avangard devotees, Moscow’s Siberian diaspora with locals looking for regular top-level action in their town for the first time since MVD merged with Dynamo Moscow in 2010. They were rewarded with an entertaining game and, for most of them, the right result as Avangard maintained its winning start to the season under head coach Bob Hartley.
Hartley has now been behind the bench for four KHL games and won them all with an aggregate margin of 13-2. Tonight’s, though, was his toughest so far. A goalless first period was followed by a middle frame in which the teams traded four goals: Kirill Semyonov and Ville Pokka twice put Avangard up, Pavel Poryadin and Juuso Puustinen twice responded for Neftekhimik.
But Neftekhimik’s start to the season has been stuttering, with just one win in three home games to get things going. Andrei Nazarov heads a team in transition and Avangard exposed its frailties in the final stanza. Semyonov struck again to make it 3-2, smashing the loose puck into an open net after Artyom Manukyan’s shot was deflected into the slot. That was Semyonov’s second of the night, and soon afterwards Sergei Shirokov made the game safe and made it four goals in four games this season.
In the past, Sochi has been something of an awkward opponent for SKA. Last season’s memorable win in Petersburg on Oct. 11 halted SKA’s winning start to the campaign; in early December Sochi beat the Army Men again. This time, though, SKA was in no mood for compromise.
It took some time for the opening goal to arrive. SKA had the better of the first period but it was just 48 seconds before the interval when Ilya Kablukov turned that pressure into a goal. Sochi was hit on the counter as its power play came to an end. Andrei Kuzmenko came out of the box to set Viktor Tikhonov on the rush and after his shot was saved Kablukov tucked away the rebound.
Nikolai Prokhorkin doubled that lead with a power play goal in the second period, exchanging passes with Vasily Tokranov before evading a defenseman and whipping in a devastating wrist shot from the top of the circle. Number three came late in the middle frame. Vladislav Gavrikov made the interception, Pavel Datsyuk’s one-touch pass sent Nikita Gusev beyond the visiting defense and the forward shot the puck through Dmitry Shikin’s five-hole to complete a text-book counter-attack. Sochi got a goal back early in the third through Nikita Shchitov but SKA claimed a comfortable victory.
Nikita Filatov, one of the great enigmatic talents of Russian hockey, brought his better side to this game – and claimed a last-minute winner to head off a Vityaz fightback.
The home team had recovered from 0-2 down and harbored hopes of claiming a third win in four games. Instead, Filatov found himself unguarded as he got on to Kaspars Daugavins’ pass and shot into the gaping net for the decisive goal. That was Filatov’s first for his latest club, and gave Spartak its third win of the season.
It might have been easier for the visitor. Alexander Khokhlachyov and Alexander Osipov opened a 2-0 lead by the 21st minute. But Vityaz responded though Marek Hrivik and Miro Aaltonen to tie the game with 10 minutes left.
The contrast between these teams could hardly have been greater. Jokerit came to Minsk on the back of three home victories and a confident start to the season. Dinamo had been out on the road and suffered three losses. Home comfort was badly needed, but Jokerit produced a performance that justified the form book.
The Finns took the early initiative and reaped the rewards with a goal on their first power play in the 17th minute. To make matters worse for Dinamo, it was scored by Geoff Platt, one a hero in these parts. In the second period the host had more of the game, but fell further behind on another power play goal as defenseman Alex Grant got his first in the KHL.
Jesse Joensuu’s unassisted effort early in the third effectively snuffed out any hopes of a Dinamo revival, although Kristian Khenkel did at least get his team on the scoreboard a minute later. This was always Jokerit’s game, though, and Marko Anttila’s empty-net strike merely confirmed the inevitable. Both teams maintain 100% records, but only one will be eager to prolong its streak.