For Avangard, this was a fourth successive victory; for Avtomobilist, a fourth straight loss. Two of the more strongly favored teams in the Eastern Conference are currently enjoying contrasting fortunes.
For the home team, the abrupt loss of form is alarming. When Andrei Martemyanov’s team earned a shoot-out success against Avangard in September, it claimed a seventh successive win. In total, Avto reeled off eight consecutive victories at the start of the campaign and looked capable of repeating last season’s Conference-leading finish. Since then, though, the wheels have come off. Just two wins in 11 games have sent the Motormen skidding down the table towards the clutch of clubs grappling for a spot in the playoffs. That’s well below the big expectations in Yekaterinburg, where the pre-season talk was about matching last year’s regular season efforts and going deeper into the playoffs.
Avangard, meanwhile, is now three points clear at the top of the Chernyshev Division. Bob Hartley’s team has been consistent throughout the season, never suffering more than two losses in a row and only once failing to defeat an Eastern Conference rival. Right from the start, the Hawks took control of the game and after jumping to an early 2-0 lead the visitor applied its trademark pressing game to frustrate the home offense.
The first five minutes went a long way to determining the outcome. Rob Klinkhammer put Avangard up after 47 seconds and the next serious attack saw Valentin Pyanov make it 2-0 when he scored off a rebound.
Avtomobilist did get a chance to return to the game late in the first period when Nikita Pivtsakin earned 27 PIMs for tripping and high sticking on Nikita Setdikov. The long power play enabled Anatoly Golyshev to halve the deficit but after that the Avangard PK held firm to preserve the one-goal lead.
In the second period both teams tried to create chances but struggled to break down two well-drilled defenses. There was a feeling that the next mistake would be a turning point and that proved to be the case. Nikita Tryamkin got caught in possession behind his own net and that high-pressing Avangard offense sprung into action to give Kirill Semyonov his team’s third goal of the game and ensure that the winning streak would continue.
Sibir climbed into the top four in the East with an emphatic victory at Sochi, but the Leopards continue to struggle and slumped to a sixth successive loss. That run has already prompted a change of head coaches, but the new man, Leonids Beresnevs, has been unable to halt the slump and has now suffered four losses – all at home – since stepping behind the bench.
If Sochi is suffering, Sibir’s Alexander Sharov has hit a hot streak. Friday’s game brought him two more goals and extended his run to four goals in three games. It was also the first time this season he scored more than once in a game and his efforts provided the basis for Sibir’s convincing victory.
Sharov opened the scoring in the seventh minute and added Sibir’s fourth late in the second period. In between there were goals from two Finns as Jukka Peltola and Juuso Puustinen found the net. Former Sochi defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka assisted on the latter.
The home team got on the board late in the second period through Sean Collins, but it was never going to be more than a consolation effort. Sibir calmly protected its three-goal lead in a third period that turned into an exercise in game management.