There’s an unusual name at the top of the KHL table just now. Vityaz took over the lead on Sunday after a 4-2 victory at SKA stretched its winning streak to seven games. The Moscow Region team is level on points with Avtomobilist, which lost for the first time on Saturday at home to Spartak, but is out in front due to more wins in regulation time. The win in Petersburg ended a 20-game losing streak against SKA and put the club into its highest position ever in the KHL era. Goalie Ilya Ezhov, who made 49 saves on Sunday, felt that his team had proved a point. “We showed that it’s no accident that we’re on top of the [Western] Conference,” he said. “Now our next game against Avtomobilist will be a showdown between the KHL’s leaders, a battle of East and West.”
If Vityaz is an unlikely leader, there are more surprises near the foot of the table. In the West, Jokerit finds itself second from bottom of the Conference with just two wins from seven games. Lauri Marjamaki’s team has been wildly inconsistent this season, with a 7-2 win over Dinamo Riga and a 0-5 loss at Dinamo Minsk among those early results. A trip to Torpedo also showed the best and worst of the current set-up as the Finns impressively moved to a 4-1 lead than collapsed to lose 5-6 in overtime. Scoring isn’t a problem – Niklas Jensen, Petri Kontiola and Mikko Lehtonen all have six points from the last five games – but the defense is unconvincing.
Metallurg’s difficulties are well-documented. Head coach Josef Jandac left abruptly but his replacement, Ilya Vorobyov, has not yet found the answers and the team is in 11th place in the East. Vorobyov earned his first victory in this second spell behind the bench, hanging on to edge Spartak 4-3 after opening a 4-0 lead, but then suffered a home loss to Ak Bars. Unusually for Magnitka, the problem seems to be a lack of scoring power, with just 15 goals in nine games. So far, nobody on a reshaped offense has stepped up with a consistent run of points.
Barys took a trip to Almaty to introduce the KHL to Kazakhstan’s biggest city. The team played two games there last week and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Tickets at the Almaty Arena were snapped up fast and there was a capacity crowd of 12,000 for the visits of Spartak and Traktor. It was a hit off the ice, and a success on it as Barys collected two victories without allowing a goal.
Avangard, struggling with injuries at the start of the season, moved to sign Canadian forward Rob Klinkhammer. Klinks made his debut on Sunday and had two assists in a 5-2 win over Kunlun Red Star. The 33-year-old Alberta native is starting his fourth season in the KHL after arriving at Dinamo Minsk in 2016. He then joined Ak Bars, helping Kazan to Gagarin Cup glory in 2018 just a couple of months after he won Olympic bronze with Canada. Earlier in his career Klinkhammer went undrafted but worked his way through the minors to debut with the Blackhawks in 2010/11. He made 193 NHL appearances in total.
Life in the KHL seems to be suiting summer arrival Mikael Wikstrand. The Ak Bars defenseman is playing his first season outside his native Sweden and has wasted little time in adapting. The 25-year-old is on a six-game productive streak and has 8 (2+6) points from seven games in this league so far. Big things were expected of the Karlstad native when he was drafted by the Senators but his prospects in North America went on hiatus after an acrimonious departure from Ottawa. Now, though, the 2018 World Champ is showing just what got the scouts so excited back around 2015.