Two teams that underwent big summer reconstructions met in Magnitogorsk. While Metallurg’s changes were largely voluntary, with the club looking to dispense with some of last season’s underachievers and build a younger, hungrier roster, Red Star’s were born of necessity. Of the players who took to the ice today, just two had played for the club before — and one of them had only two KHL appearance in his career.
The game also marked Alexei Kovalev’s debut as head coach, and he could hardly have been given a tougher first assignment. Red Star was under pressure from the off: former Sochi goalie Dmitry Shikin pulled off a smart save to deny Harri Pesonen in the third minute and went on to make 33 stops in the game. A needless penalty for Anton Glinkin added to the problems, but the Dragons’ PK was solid enough to endure Glinkin’s double minor, and a 90-second spell of 3-on-5 play after Yegor Dugin followed his team-mate into the box.
But late in the opening frame, Sergei Plotnikov opened the scoring with a power play goal for Metallurg; the summer signing is Ilya Vorobyov’s captain this season and he led by example to brek the deadlock.
The second period was more competitive, but it was clear that while Kunlun is a well-organized team it lacks the offensive spark that can really hurt opponents. And the weaknesses of that forward line were exposed early in the third when three Red Star power plays came and went without any serious threat to Vasily Koshechkin’s net. The remained live until the closing minutes, when Pesonen scored a second power play goal of the night to give Magnitka some much-needed breathing space. The Dragons had some late reward for their efforts thanks to Ruslan Pedan’s goal, awarded after a video review confirmed that his shot hit the net a second before the siren. The robbed Koshechkin of his 70th shut-out in the KHL.
SKA made a winning start on the road, but found life tough against a Neftekhimik team that battled through adversity to make this a competitive game.
Neftekhimik had to put 10 players on the injured list yesterday, plus head coach Vyacheslav Butusov, meaning the roster had an unfamiliar look. It was also a tribute to the club’s academy, with 16 home-grown players involved in the game. None of the team’s imports were available for selection.
Inevitably, that meant it was a big ask for the home team, but Neftekhimik battled hard against SKA. However, the visitor assumed control in the first period, leading the shot count 15-8 and dominating the possession stats. Igor Ozhiganov opened the scoring in the 13th minute, redirecting a Viktor Antipin shot past Konstantin Barulin, to turn that supremacy into a tangible advantage. Seconds later, Andrei Kuzmenko had Barulin beaten only to be denied by the piping as SKA looked to seize complete control.
Neftekhimik did not yield, though. The second period saw the Tatar team improve. At times, Alexander Kucheryavenko’s top line produced some scintillating play, but Alexander Samonov kept his goal intact. And SKA continued to pose a threat, even if things were less lopsided than before. A late power play proved costly for Neftekhimik, with Anton Burdasov wiring a shot through a crowd of players seconds before the intermission.
With 10 minutes to play in the third, Neftekhimik got on the scoreboard. Kucheryavenko was the scorer.
Vityaz produced the first big surprise of the season when it went to Ak Bars and came away with the win. The home team was the red hot favorite here, not just to win the game but to dominate the Eastern Conference this season. However, a Vityaz team generally expected to scrap for a playoff place in the West produced a thoroughly professional, disciplined performance to thwart the home team and start its campaign with a notable scalp.
Ak Bars made its home debut on the back of an encouraging win at CSKA in the Opening Cup. But it took just 51 seconds for Vityaz to bring everyone back down to earth. Defenseman Yegor Voronkov got the opening goal of the game inside the first minute, with summer signing Justin Danforth among the assists. Voronkov, 23, isn’t a prolific scorer: in five previous KHL campaigns he has just three goals, and never more than one in a season.
And Vityaz was good value for its lead at the first intermission. Mikhail Kravets’ team did a good job of stifling the Ak Bars offense, limiting the home team to just six shots on target in an even game. Admittedly, a steady string of penalties — five minors between the two teams — did little to encourage free-flowing action, but the visitor could be well satisfied with its work early in the game.
In the second period, the home team showed signs of finding its game, but still had few opportunities to really press the Vityaz defense. And the visitor was able to threaten with some pacey counter-attacks at times. Late in the frame, Vityaz added a second when Alexander Semin’s pass picked out Alexander Dergachyov and the former SKA man marked his Vityaz debut with a goal.
It might have got worse for the host at the start of the third when a misplaced pass sent Svyatoslav Grebenshchikov through on goal, only to be denied by the post. However, Ak Bars raised its tempo and created several dangerous positions, but found a reluctance to shoot for goal costly. Patrice Cormier had perhaps the most eye-catching chance, spinning his way from the corner to the doorstep, but Ilya Ezhov had the answers in the Vityaz net.
Ak Bars kept pushing for a way back into the game, but once Vityaz successfully killed a late penalty there was no way back for Dmitry Kvartalnov’s team. Instead, two late empty-net goals piled on the agony for the host and, adding insult to injury, the final blow was delivered by Fyodor Malykhin, a former Kazan player.
CSKA bounced back from its overtime loss against Ak Bars to get a first win of the season at home to HC Sochi. But the Army Men didn’t have it easy against the Leopards, going behind before a flurry of goals in the third settled the outcome.
The first period was goalless. CSKA had plenty of possession, but struggled to test Joel Lassinantti on his KHL debut in the Sochi net. Of 20 shots unleashed by the home team, only eight got as far as the Finn, and he had little difficulty in holding on to them.
The second period looked like it might follow a similar pattern: CSKA clearly on top, but Lassinantti not unduly troubled. Then events took a surprising turn. Marcus Nilsson, a nippy 29-year-old winger who top scored in last season’s Swedish Hockey League, stunned the home team when he put Sochi in front midway through the game.
The third period began with a CSKA blitz. Mat Robinson put the home team in front 30 seconds after the restart, lasering a wrister from the right-hand circle. Then, despite a penalty for Nikita Korostelyov, the Army Men extended their lead when Mikhail Karnaukhov broke into the Sochi zone and surprised Lassinantti with a shot over the glove to make it 3-1.