Not even the absence of Pavel Datsyuk could harm Avtomobilist’s progress as the Eastern Conference leader produced a five-star display at Neftekhimik. Bill Peters had to reshuffle his pack to accommodate Datsyuk’s absence, but his team adapted with ease to move three points clear at the top.
A pair of quick goals in the fifth minute got the Motormen on the road as Alexei Vasilevsky scored with Avto’s first shot of the game before Andrei Obidin doubled the lead 25 seconds later. Obidin’s successful breakaway earned goalie Jakub Kovar a fourth assist of the season. Late in the opening frame, the teams traded further goals with Rafael Bikmullin cutting the deficit before Geoff Platt made it 3-1 at the first break.
Neftekhimik, looking to bounce back after Sunday’s high-scoring loss at Traktor, continued to fight and remained firmly in contention after grabbing the only goal of the second period. Marat Khairullin potted his fifth of the season — and his third in four games — to keep the game alive going into the closing session.
Spartak moved back into the playoff places as Oleg Znarok enjoyed a winning return to St. Petersburg. The Spartak head coach won three of his four meetings with SKA last season and tonight he avenged September’s 0-2 loss against the club he led to Gagarin Cup glory in 2017.
The Red-and-Whites made a dream start, taking the lead after 50 seconds. The visitor won possession in center ice and Robin Hanzl served up a dish for Artyom Fyodorov to score with a one-timer. Spartak continued to press in the early stages, but was caught out when an error from Evgeny Kulik saw Andrei Kuzmenko steak the puck and beat Julius Hudacek.
Often, that would be the cue for SKA to seize control of the game. However, Valery Bragin’s team found it hard to get to grips with Spartak’s high-energy performance. The visitor was determined to shoot on sight — the teams spent similar time on the attack, but the shot count was 14-3 in the visitor’s favor. Midway through the frame, Dmitry Vishnevsky launched one from the blue line and Sergei Shirokov’s touch took it away from Magnus Hellberg. Then, when Spartak got the first power play of the game, the same tactic paid off once again. This time Maxim Tsyplakov got the vital touch on another Vishnevsky piledriver.
Early in the second, Shirokov thought he had another goal, but it was ruled out for offside following a bench challenge. Even so, it marked the end of Hellberg’s evening with the Swede called back to the bench in favor of Mikhail Berdin. The scoreline remained 3-1, but the pattern of play did not change much either with SKA limited to just four shots at Hudacek in the middle frame.
Early in the third, Shirokov — part of Znarok’s championship roster at SKA — did get a second goal, firing home a great pass from Hanzl to make it 4-1. And Spartak continued to dominate the game until the end, finishing with 43 shots against just 15 from the home team.