Nail Yakupov celebrated his Avangard debut with a goal as the Hawks enjoyed a big win over Eastern Conference leader Avtomobilist. Yakupov, one of the enigmatic talents of Russian hockey, arrived at the club last week after finding life at Amur difficult. And despite taking a pay cut to sign up with Bob Hartley’s men, the former NHL #1 draft pick didn’t take long to highlight his value, potting his team’s fifth goal of the game.
Part of the difference for Yakupov might be the quality of his new team-mates. In Khabarovsk, he carried the bulk of the creative responsibility for Amur. Here, though, teamed with Denis Zernov and Reid Boucher, he’s part of an already-productive line. And there were early signs of chemistry as Zernov spun out an audacious no-look pass for Yakupov to open his Avangard account in some style.
There was a breathless start to this game. In the first minute Zernov was hooked back by Chay Genoway after he was clean through on goal. But Jakub Kovar closed the door on Sergei Tolchinsky and the scores stayed level. But only for a minute. Yegor Chinakhov blocked a shot in his own zone and immediately took the puck up the ice. His pass to the center found Alexander Khokhlachyov, who took one touch to knock the puck out of the air and a second, on the backhand, to slide it past Kovar.
It wasn’t long before Avtomobilist tied it up. Peter Holland blocked a slap shot, the puck dropped for Dan Sexton and the American launched at counter attack that ended with Stanislav Bocharov shooting through Igor Bobkov’s defenses. And the game was not yet five minutes old.
Midway through the first period, Avangard went back in front when Boucher got to the rebound after Alexei Bereglazov’s point shot was saved. And at last the pace eased a little, with Avto having the better of the remaining play but struggling to test Bobkov further.
The home team extended its lead midway through the game thanks to a power play goal from Khokhlachyov after Chinakhov combined with Corban Knight down the right flank. Early in the third, though Avto hit back when the KHL’s leading scorer, Alexei Makeyev, arrived at the back door to steer a Brooks Macek pass into the net.
Avangard produced a strong response to take the game away from the Motormen. In addition to Yakupov’s debut goal, there were two further tallies from Sergei Tolchinsky. Avto was not quite done: late goals from Georgy Belousov and Geoff Platt made the final scoreline more respectable but there was no doubt about the winner of an entertaining game.
Lokomotiv’s Swedish contingent led the way to a comfortable victory over Neftekhimik as the Railwaymen steamed to an eighth successive win.
Andrei Skabelka’s team gained ample revenge for a 2-3 loss at home to the same opponent almost a month earlier and underlined the vast progress it has made. Since that game, with Loko struggling to cope with a coronavirus outbreak, the club has hit a rich vein of form, winning nine of its 11 games.
Here, Lokomotiv fell behind early on to a Libor Hudacek goal. But the visitor did not take long to recover. Anton Lander tied the scores midway through the frame before Andre Petersson made it 2-1. That was a fair reflection of the play in a session that saw the home team largely outplayed, and the pattern continued in the middle frame. Lander added his second of the game just before the intermission and it looked a long way back for Neftekhimik.
Any lingering doubts about the outcome were erased at the start of the third. Alexei Marchenko scored on the power play 25 seconds after the restart, with another Swede, Magnus Paajarvi Svensson getting an assist. Then Nikolai Kovalenko added a fifth to complete an emphatic final scoreline. The other stats were no less one-sided, with Loko outshooting Neftekhimik 45-16 and spending almost three times as long on the attack (18:51 vs 6:23) in a dominant performance on the road.