Dinamo Minsk is fast emerging as the surprise package of the new season. The Belarusians have improved greatly since last year’s struggles and today posted a fourth successive victory to move to third in the Western Conference. There’s no shortage of entertainment either, as Craig Woodcroft’s cavaliers have more goals than any other team the west (29), while allowing more than anyone except Sochi.
Friday’s trip to Yekaterinburg was another high-scoring encounter. The teams traded early goals, with Alexei Makeyev giving Avto the lead before Shane Prince tied it up in the sixth minute when he tucked away the rebound from a Brennan Menell shot. Chances, but not goals, continued to flow throughout the first period, but it was midway through the second that the pace picked up.
The teams traded quick goals once again, with Kirill Voronin putting Dinamo ahead before Stanislav Bocharov’s shot found the back of the net along with Dominik Furch and a Dinamo defenseman. Then, late in the frame, Alexei Protas scored on the power play to restore Dinamo’s lead, Avto had a goal disallowed for use of a foot, and Yegor Sharangovich capitalized on an error from Jakub Kovar to make it 4-2 to Minsk at the second intermission.
The Motormen pulled one back in the third, and Makeyev celebrated a landmark. The former Vityaz man converted a 5-on-3 power play (6-on-3 in reality, as Kovar retreated to the bench) and scored his 100th KHL goal. That put Avto right back in the game with three minutes to play, but the Minsk defense held firm to secure the win. It all adds up to the best start to a KHL campaign for Dinamo.
Jokerit returned from quarantine and — after a sticky start — got straight back to winning ways. Today’s game brought a third straight victory for the Finns as Lauri Marjamaki’s team looked in rude health at the Hartwall Arena.
Admittedly, it took a bit of time for Jokerit to get up to speed. Despite enjoying much of the possession in the first period, the home team was unable to turn pressure into goals and went to the intermission down to a Viktor Komarov effort.
The middle frame began with Brian O’Neill tying the scores and shortly afterwards, David Sklenicka scored a short-handed goal to give Jokerit the lead. The first Finnish goalscorer of the night followed midway through the frame but, ironically, Mikael Ruohomaa’s goal tied the game for Sibir.
That was as good as it got for the visitor, though. Marko Anttila made it 3-2 and the third period saw Niklas Jensen shoot home an unstoppable wrister before John Norman’s empty-netter wrapped up the win.
The unlikely prospect of an Eastern Conference ‘derby’ between two teams based in Moscow’s outskirts became reality this evening as Kunlun Red Star — temporarily based in Mytishchi — travelled to Balashikha to face Avangard. Circumstances have put both clubs far from home, and the pandemic places a further restriction on crowd numbers, but there were still more than 1,000 noisy spectators in the building for this one.
They saw Avangard take control of the game early on, with the Hawks dominating the first period. Denis Zernov got the only goal of the opening session, but it took 26 saves from Simon Hrubec to keep the Dragons in contention. Early in the second, Corban Knight thought he had a second of the game, but a video review could not confirm that his shot crossed the line under Hrubec’s skate and the score stayed at 1-0.
Next came a big moment for Yegor Chinakhov. The teenager got his first goal in the KHL, firing in a wrister through traffic to double his team’s lead. But there was a question: the Red Star bench challenged, citing goalie interference. It took some time to resolve — a nerve-wracking few minutes for a young man eager to make his mark — but the goal was given. Thus, Chinakhov got one up on German Shaporev, the Red Star forward who joined his opponent in last year’s KHL All-Star Game.
Red Star might have been aggrieved by that decision; 17 seconds later Knight scored a goal that nobody could question and the game was effectively over. The Dragons pulled one back, with Chinakhov diverting a Luke Lockhart pass into his own net under pressure from David Bondra, but there was only one winner and Avangard duly wrapped it up in the third.
Neftekhimik built on its win over Amur by defeated Loko in Yaroslavl. But the home team staged a big comeback from 1-3 and believed it had tied the game, only to see Mikhail Belyayev’s effort ruled out by a video review.
Lokomotiv went into the game without any of its imports and called up several youngsters to put out a team. The club recently forfeited its game at Kunlun Red Star after failing to compete due to a rash of infections on the team. Today, back in action, it was an unfamiliar home roster that took on Neftekhimik.
The visitor, meanwhile, enjoyed a strong performance as it steadily recovers from a virus in its camp. Marat Khairullin put the visitor ahead in the first period and the lead was only briefly tested. Artur Kayumov’s goal midway through the game brought Lokomotiv level, but within seconds Daniel Butsayev restored the lead. A proud moment for his father, Vyacheslav, Neftekhimik’s head coach. Late in the middle frame, Libor Hudacek scored his first of the season to make it 3-1. The Slovak forward potted the shoot-out winner last time, and here he claimed the game-winner in regulation.
But there was still drama to come. Alexander Daryin put Loko back in contention at the start of the third, and in the 53rd minute the puck was in the Neftekhimik net once again when Belyayev converted the rebound from a Pavel Kudryavtsev shot. However, the officials spotted goalie interference on the play and the visitor remained in front. It stayed that way until the end, with Evgeny Ivannikov finishing with 48 saves in his team’s victory.
In recent games, SKA has made the headlines with a young roster. A mixture of design and necessity, the Army Men has called on its cadets — and with some success. Extending the theme, club vice-president Roman Rotenberg stepped up as interim head coach for today’s game while Valery Bragin recovers from suspected coronavirus. Rotenberg is well-known in hockey circles, but this was his first time behind the bench at this level.
Despite the presence of plenty of raw enthusiasm, today’s clash against one of the team’s biggest rivals needed a contribution from the old guard to salvage something after Ak Bars jumped to a 2-0 lead in the second period.
The teams shared 16 shots apiece in the goalless first period, although SKA spent far more time on the attack than the visitor. After the break, though, Ak Bars got ahead. Mikael Wikstrand opened the scoring, aided by a deflection off a home stick when he let fly from the left. Then, on the power play, Patrice Cormier redirected a Justin Azevedo shot to double the lead.
SKA hit back through one of its youngsters. Ivan Morozov reduced the arrears when he scored off an assist from 21-year-old forward Artyom Nikolayev, who collected his first point in the KHL. However, it was the more experienced combination of Evgeny Timkin (30), Vladimir Tkachyov (24) and goalscorer Andrei Kuzmenko (24) who saved the game with 21 seconds to play. True, it’s hardly the most venerable trio to line up in the KHL, but on a roster stuffed with youth team players, this was very much tonight’s collection of old heads.
The youngsters had their chances in overtime: Nikita Dynyak went close for Ak Bars, while Morozov released Arseny Brinkman, only for Timur Bilyalov to make the save. Then, in the shoot-out, the experience of Alexander Burmistrov made the difference. He scored on Mikhail Berdin at the first attempt and nobody else could find the way to goal as Ak Bars took the verdict.