The big game of the day saw Ak Bars produce a big performance to win in Helsinki and end a three-game losing streak. Torpedo’s Mikhail Varnakov had four points as his side won 6-0 at Vityaz, while a Mikael Ruohomaa goal was the only difference between Neftekhimik and Sochi. Severstal winning start to 2019 came to an end at Spartak.
Neftekhimik edged past Sochi thanks to a solitary goal from Mikael Ruohomaa. The Finn struck after three minutes of the third period, converting a feed from his compatriot Joonas Nattinen. That was enough to give Vyacheslav Butsayev’s team the verdict at one of the coach’s former clubs.
With goalies dominating the action, it was an encouraging day for Sochi’s youngter Pyotr Kochetkov. The 19-year-old was making only his second KHL appearance, having forced his way into the picture with an impressive display at the recent World Junior Championship. Here, he made 25 saves but was outdone by visiting goalie Ilya Ezhov with 31.
The result keeps Sochi’s playoff hopes in the balance, with the Black Sea team still just three points clear of Dinamo Riga in ninth place. Neftekhimik, with three wins from its last four under Butsayev, is one of three teams tied on 44 points, seven behind Traktor in the Eastern Conference. However, the Tatar team has played two more games than its immediate rivals for a post-season berth.
Spartak handed Severstal its first loss of 2019 in a roller-coaster game in Moscow.
The first period saw the host jump to a 2-0 lead when Maxim Tsyplakov and Anton Zlobin scored two goals in three minutes. Severstal responded by replacing one young goalie, Sergei Korobov, with the even younger Alexei Artamkin and roared back immediately. Yury Trubachyov and German Grachyov hauled the visitor level, then Dmitry Markovin’s power play goal gave the Steelmen the lead.
Now it was Spartak’s turn to ring the changes and former Severstal goalie Julius Hudacek made way from Nikita Bespalov. That switch proved successful. Bespalov kept the visitor at bay for the remainder of the game and a swift double salvo in the second period saw Martins Karsums and Alexander Osipov secure the win for the host.
For the second time this season, Torpedo enjoyed a big win over Vityaz. After defeating the Moscow Region team 4-1 at home back in September, the men from Nizhny Novgorod were even more impressive here in a 6-0 thrashing.
Mikhail Varnakov and Andrew Calof led the way with two goals apiece. Varnakov opened the scoring in the first period, a goal slightly against the run of play as the home side made a solid start. He then assisted on Calof’s double either side of the second intermission as Torpedo extended its lead to 4-0. In the final frame Varnakov converted a 5-on-3 power play, with Calof getting a helper. Ilya Nazarevich completed the scoring soon afterwards as Vityaz failed to kill the remaining penalty time.
Vityaz missed the chance to put some distance between itself and the battle for eighth place in the West. Valery Belov’s team remains seventh, one ahead of Sochi and four better off than Riga. Torpedo snapped a three-game losing streak and moves four clear of Traktor and 11 ahead of the teams outside the playoff zone in the East.
Ak Bars bounced back from its recent indifferent run with a devastating double moments before the first intermission.
The Finns have also stuttered in recent games, but would have gone a point behind Loko with victory here. That looked a good bet when Niklas Jensen opened the scoring in the 14th minute. The Dane found the net for the fourth game in succession and extended his productive streak to 10 outings (8 goals, 3 assists in that run). But it all went wrong for the host in the final minute of the first period.
Two goals in 13 seconds from Ak Bars dealt a hammer blow to Jokerit’s hopes. Stanislav Galiyev tied it up when his speculative shot from the right channel was deflected into his own net by goalie Ryan Zapolski. Then Anton Lander gave the visitor the lead, putting away the rebound after an Albert Yarullin effort thundered back off the boards.
Another Jokerit error saw Ak Bars stretch its lead in the middle frame. Pekka Jormakka lost the puck to Alexei Potapov, who skated away to grab a short-handed goal. The home team then gained a 5-on-3 advantage but could not reduce the deficit. Early in the final frame, Jormakka made amends with a power play goal and Jokerit laid siege to Vladislav Podyapolsky’s net in the closing stages. However, Brian O’Neill’s shot off the post was as close as the host came to tying the game and Ak Bars ended its three-game losing streak.