Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Ak Bars and Salavat Yulaev played their last games before jetting off to the KHL World Games in Switzerland – but neither team enjoyed an ideal preparation for the Green Derby. In Kazan, Sibir pulled off a surprise victory against the league leader, while Avangard had enough to get past Salavat Yulaev and close the gap at the top of the Eastern Conference. Saturday’s early games took place in Vladivostok and Beijing – and produced a pair of lopsided scorelines. Admiral overpowered struggling Dinamo Minsk 5-1, while Torpedo turned the formbook upside down to win 7-2 at Red Star. Struggling Traktor edged an overtime win against Neftekhimik before Jokerit and Lokomotiv produced home wins over Western Conference strugglers Dinamo Riga and Severstal.

Schroeder leads the way in a combative clash

Kunlun Red Star 2 Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod 7 (2-1, 0-4, 0-2)

Torpedo snapped a five-game losing streak in some style, buoyed by a powerful second-period performance in a stormy encounter in China. Red Star, meanwhile, saw its three-game winning run come to an end with its heaviest loss of the season so far.

The visitor scored three goals in two minutes at the start of the second stanza to turn this one around and set up a big win. And as the goals piled up, so did the penalties. The third period saw a major scuffle after Georgy Misharin’s hit on Brandon DeFazio upside the home team, then Garet Hunt traded blows with double goalscorer Jordan Schroeder.

In the first period, though, things were very different. An even, clean game saw Schroeder put Torpedo ahead early on. However, Brandon Yip tied it up right away on the power play and Denis Osipov gave Red Star the lead with his first goal for the club.

Then came the blitz. Stanislav Bocharov tied it up, Daniil Ilyin made it 3-2 just 10 seconds later and Paul Szczechura opened a two-goal lead on 22:07. A power play goal from Denis Barantsev saw Curt Fraser swap goalies for only the second time this season: Simon Hrubec replaced Jeremy Smith.

The outcome was clear, but there were more goals in the third period as Schroeder and Kirill Urakov found the net. By now, though, the game had taken an aggressive turn. The Misharin-DeFazio incident sparked a brawl that saw nine players go to the sin bin; Torpedo took advantage for Urakov to score on the power play. Then Hunt and Schroeder squared up before Lucas Lockhart also left the game following a late hit on youngster Denis Pochivalov.

Dinamo suffers ninth straight loss

Admiral Vladivostok 5 Dinamo Minsk 1 (1-0, 4-0, 0-1)

In Vladivostok, like in Beijing, a four-goal second period decided the outcome of this game. Admiral returned to the top eight thanks to a convincing win over the Western Conference struggler.

Dinamo travelled to the Far East without Swedish goalie Jhonas Enroth, a high-profile departure from Belarus as the trade deadline approaches. Danny Taylor took his place between the piping and he was beaten in the 14th minute when Adam Almqvist scored on the power play.

That was the only goal of the opening frame, but the game was decided in the second. A short-handed goal from Markus Ljungh increased the lead then Vladimir Butuzov, Martin Bakos and Alexei Drobin scored in the latter half of the session to open a 5-0 lead. Drobin’s goal was the 19-year-old’s first in the KHL following his recent call-up from Yermak Angarsk.

Dinamo sent out Mikhail Karnaukhov to mind the net in the final frame and he kept Admiral at bay. There was even a small consolation for the visitor when Evgeny Kovyrshin got one goal back, but nothing would stop a ninth successive loss for the Bison.

Another loss for Neftekhimik

Traktor Chelyabinsk 2 Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 1 OT (1-0, 0-0, 0-1, 1-0)

Neftekhimik suffered a fourth straight loss, going down to bottom club Traktor in a game that sees the Tatar team lose further ground on the playoff places. The host, meanwhile, bounced back from two successive defeats to move within two points of Amur at the foot of the table.

It could have been worse for the visitor: only a late equalizer spared Neftekhimik from defeat in regulation. That goal came from Marat Khairullin, cancelling out Jesse Virtanen’s first-period opener. Traktor thought it had a second goal in the second period, but a challenge from the visitor’s bench saw that effort whistled off for goalie interference.

A second goal arrived in the 63rd minute with Traktor on the power play in overtime. Lukas Sedlak settled the outcome off an assist from Andrew Calof.

Markus makes his mark

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 3 Severstal Cherepovets 2 (1-1, 1-0, 1-1)

Two goals from Magnus Paajarvi Svensson made the difference as Lokomotiv made it four wins in a row and climbed to fifth in the Western Conference. Severstal, meanwhile, slipped to a fourth successive loss despite taking an early lead in this game.

Photo: 22.12.19. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl) - Severstal (Cherepovets)

That opening goal came from Kirill Kapustin after just 78 seconds. Earlier this month, the Steelmen pushed Loko all the way before losing in a shoot-out and there were signs that another tight encounter was in the offing. However, it wasn’t long before the Railwaymen got back on track. Denis Alexeyev intercepted the puck in his own zone and raced away from two opponents before beating Rafael Khakimov to tie the scores.

The second period saw Severstal have the better of the play, but Lokomotiv get the go-ahead goal. Paajarvi Svensson was the scorer, firing home off a feed from Artur Kayumov behind the net. Then early in the third, the Swede joined Stephane Da Costa in a two-on-one breakout and converted the Frenchman’s pass to make it 3-1.

The visitor responded by sending out 21-year-old goalie Dmitry Shugayev for his first KHL action and he kept Loko at bay for the rest of the game. The visitor managed to recover one goal thanks to Alexander Petunin but could not salvage the game.

O’Neill double defeats Riga

Jokerit Helsinki 5 Dinamo Riga 3 (3-1, 0-0, 2-2)

Saturday’s Battle of the Baltic went the way of Jokerit, with Lauri Marjamaki’s team bouncing back from its shoot-out loss at home to Lokomotiv last time out. For Riga, though, currently languishing at the foot of the KHL table, this was a seventh successive loss and the fourth time in those seven games that Girts Ankipans saw his team allow five goals.

The visitor shrugged off those struggles to open the scoring here. Kirill Slepets opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a short-handed goal. The former Lokomotiv youngster notched his second since moving to Riga. However, the lead was short-lived. Brian O’Neill found the top shelf to level the scores before Marko Anttila gave Jokerit a 2-1 advantage. Moments later the Finnish power play clicked into gear and Sami Lepisto made it 3-1, chasing Andrei Makarov from the Dinamo net after 10 minutes of play.

That brought Janis Voris to the crease for his first taste of KHL action and the 19-year-old didn’t let anyone down. Jokerit started the game with an impressive conversion ratio – three goals from five shots in the first period – but Voris slowed that charge. He kept his goal intact throughout the second period and when Lauris Darzins pulled a goal back at the start of the third the visitor could entertain hopes of an unlikely fightback.

That dream did not last long. Another home power play saw O’Neill pot his second of the game to restore the two-goal cushion and it would to be too much for Riga to recover. The teams traded further markers with Henri Ikonen and Alijus Nerisauskas on target in the closing minutes.

Krasikov denies Kazan, Sibir claims upset win

Ak Bars Kazan 0 Sibir Novosibirsk 3 (0-0, 0-1, 0-2)

Sibir gave Ak Bars an unwelcome send-off as Dmitry Kvartalnov’s team played its last game before flying to Switzerland for Monday’s Green Derby showdown in Davos. The visitor frustrated Kazan’s offense and Alexei Krasikov made 33 saves to secure his shut-out. The visitor could celebrate two valuable points that lift it to fifth in the race for a playoff place.

As expected, the KHL leader made a fast start and had the best of the first period. Ak Bars outshot Sibir 15-8 but could not find a way past Krasikov. The early action was enlivened by a fight between Justin Azevedo and Alexander Sharov which saw both players take major penalties, but it wasn’t until late in the second period that the crowd at Kazan’s Sports Palace saw its first goal of the day.

It came in the 35th minute with Sibir on the power play, and it was fashioned by two of the Finnish imports on the visitor’s roster. Mikael Ruohomaa set up Jyrki Jokipakka for a shot that Timur Bilyalov found too hot to handle and Danil Romantsev was on hand to gobble up the rebound.

In the third period Ak Bars enjoyed a big territorial advantage but found it hard to get inside the Sibir defense. And the visitor was happy to bide its time, preserve its lead and strike when the opportunity presented itself. Sharov released Juuso Puustinen on the breakaway and the forward’s pace took him to the right-hand circle before unleashing a shot that beat Bilyalov and put the game out of the home team’s reach. Alexei Yakovlev added a third into the empty net to wrap up the win.

Voynov extends Ufa’s losing run

Avangard Omsk 2 Salavat Yulaev Ufa 1 (1-0, 0-1, 1-0)

Slava Voynov was the difference-maker as Avangard edged past Salavat Yulaev in Balashikha. The defenseman scored the winning goal and had an assist on his team’s opener in a hard-fought battle.

Photo: 22.12.19. KHL Championship 2019-2020. Avangard (Omsk) - Salavat Yulaev (Ufa)

Avangard took the lead midway through the first period through Yegor Martynov. He adopted his traditional position at the point and waited for a pass from Voynov before firing home through a crowd of players. The puck took several ricochets on its way through to the net, confusing Andrei Kareyev in the visitor’s net.

However, Ufa was fully competitive in the opening stanza and Igor Bobkov was regularly called upon to preserve his team’s advantage. However, the goalie had no chance midway through the second session when Salavat Yulaev got on the power play and tied the game. It was a familiar combination – Linus Omark leading the charge and setting up Teemu Hartikainen for the close-range finish to make it 1-1.

It was still anyone’s game – and it was settled by a goaltending blunder. Voynov took a pass from Sergei Shirokov and fired in an effort to the near post. Kareyev couldn’t get enough on the shot and the puck squeezed over the line to restore the home team’s advantage. That was enough to win it for the Hawks, who move to within four points of Ak Bars at the top of the Eastern Conference. Salavat Yulaev heads to Switzerland looking to halt a run of four losses and gain swift revenge for Thursday’s loss at Ak Bars.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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