Andy Potts Andy Potts
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The Metallurg revival is picking up pace. Since Mike Pelino returned to the coaching staff in Magnitogorsk, the team has gone undefeated and today’s win at Salavat Yulaev made it five from five. SKA had a much more difficult time than expected at home to struggling Dinamo Riga, blowing a two-goal lead before losing in a shoot-out. Spartak also needed overtime to defeat Jokerit in Moscow, while Kunlun Red Star edged a high-scoring thriller at Neftekhimik.

Resurgent Metallurg wins five in a row

Salavat Yulaev Ufa 1 Metallurg Magnitogorsk 3 (0-1, 1-0, 0-2)

Metallurg recorded a fifth straight win, banishing memories of its struggles in November and moving to third in the Eastern Conference. The Steelmen’s rise started with a victory over a relatively modest Neftekhimik, but now includes the scalps of Dynamo, SKA and Salavat Yulaev — results that suggest the team may have turned a corner.

Photo: 07.12.20. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Salavat Yulaev (Ufa) - Metallurg (Magnitogorsk)

Metallurg’s opponent, meanwhile, was stuttering a little. However, Ufa was boosted by the return of goalie Juha Metsola, making his 300th KHL appearance after missing out since Nov. 22. The Finn did not have the happiest of returns, though: inside five minutes he was beaten when Sergei Plotnikov put away the rebound from an Artyom Minulin shot. At the other end, Salavat Yulaev failed to score for the fourth consecutive period on home ice, following Saturday’s 0-3 loss against Dynamo.

Teemu Hartikainen put that right early in the second, albeit with some good fortune. Philip Larsen’s one-timer from the blue line was going wide, but it hit the Finnish forward and flashed past Vasily Koshechkin in the Metallurg net. That power play goal came moments after Semyon Koshelev rattled the home crossbar; Magnitka went on to have the better of the second period but was unable to restore its lead.

The game-breaker came midway through the third when Grigory Panin was sent to the box. Metallurg was not about to pass up a second powerplay chance in the final stanza and Dennis Rasmussen duly obliged, starting and finishing the move that led to the winning goal. Ufa still had chances, with two power plays for the home team in the final minutes keeping hopes alive until the end. But when a short-handed Metallurg scored into the empty net — Plotnikov getting his second of the game — it was all over.

Nine-goal thriller in basement battle

Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 4 Kunlun Red Star 5 (2-1, 1-3, 1-1)

The bottom two teams in the Eastern Conference served up an entertaining game in Nizhnekamsk, with Ethan Werek’s double leading Red Star to a victory by the odd goal in nine.

The Dragons took the lead in the 15th minute when Ethan Werek converted the rebound after a Sean Collins shot was saved. Collins, a star of Kunlun’s first KHL campaign, returned to the club last week; this was his first point in his second spell. However, Neftekhimik hit back to lead at the intermission with goals from Alexei Volgin and Otso Rantakari. The Finnish defenseman scored on the power play late in the frame to get his first goal since Oct. 5.

A frenetic start to the second period brought two goals in the first minute. Spencer Foo tied it up for Red Star, but not for long: 33 seconds later, Timur Khafizov made it 3-2 for the home team. However, Neftekhimik’s problem throughout this season has been defense, and the Dragons became the latest team to enjoy itself in Nizhnekamsk. Tyler Wong lasered in a wrister to tie it at 3-3 midway through the game, then Hunter Shinkaruk swept Foo’s pass into the net to restore Kunlun’s lead as the intermission approached.

There was more to come, though. Libor Hudacek tied it up once more with a short-handed goal at the start of the third, but when Werek redirected a Ruslan Pedan shot into the net for his second of the game, that was enough to give the Dragons the win. Kunlun moves to within a point of Neftekhimik at the foot of the table.

Dinamo has a shock for SKA

SKA St. Petersburg 3 Dinamo Riga 4 SO (2-0, 1-2, 0-1, 0-0, 0-1)

Malte Stromwall scored his first goals for his new club, potting twice for SKA at home to Dinamo Riga. The Swede has a liking for this opponent: his last goals for Sochi also came against the Latvians. However, in Sochi he finished on the winning side whereas tonight he was on the receiving end of a shock defeat.

SKA might have expected to win this game comfortably. The first period went entirely as expected, with SKA dominating the game and jumping to a 2-0 lead thanks to Stromwall and Ivan Morozov. Both players had international call-ups to celebrate — the pair were named in the Swedish and Russian squads for the upcoming Channel 1 Cup in Moscow.

In the second period, though, Dinamo made a game of it. Mathew Maione’s power play goal early in the frame was a warning for the home team. Stromwall quickly made it 3-1, but Riga did not give up. JC Lipon opened his KHL account with an effort to the top corner and SKA was unable to restore its two-goal advantage before the second intermission. Lipon, who joined Riga after several years in the Jets organization, had to wait until his 18th appearance before getting his first goal for the club.

Team-mate Miks Indrasis endured a similarly long wait to get on the scoring trail this season, but after opening his account on Nov. 16, the Latvian forward has been in fine form. Today he tied the game with his eighth goal in eight appearances, putting away the rebound from Kristaps Sotnieks’s shot. That was enough to take the game to overtime.

The extras were hard for SKA. Twice, the home team took minor penalties and thus spent the bulk of the overtime period on the PK. However, Riga was unable to press home that advantage and the game went to a shoot-out before Lauris Darzins gave the visitor a memorable win.

Revenge win for Spartak

Spartak Moscow 3 Jokerit Helsinki 2 OT (1-1, 1-1, 0-0, 1-0)

Spartak came into this game looking to avenge a 1-7 loss in Helsinki back in October. However, the home team could take comfort from the absence of Mikko Lehtonen, now back with the Maple Leafs after his loan spell in the KHL came to an end. Lehtonen scored 2+1 in that rout; his productive presence on the blue line is a big loss for Jokerit.

Photo: 07.12.20. KHL Championship 2020-2021. Spartak (Moscow) - Jokerit (Helsinki)

The Red-and-Whites were dominant in the first period, limiting Jokerit to just two shots on goal. However, the home team struggled to turn that pressure into goals of its own, only taking the lead late in the frame when Jakub Krejcik’s stumble enabled Martin Bakos to set up Ilya Talaluyev for the opening goal. The lead was short-lived, though: Jesse Joensuu conjured a goal out of nothing to tie the game at the first intermission.

The second period began with another quickfire exchange. Jori Lehtera won a face-off in the Jokerit zone and Sergei Shirokov set up Evgeny Kulik for a slapshot that left Janis Kalnins rooted to the spot. But Jokerit responded immediately when Veli-Matti Savinainen surged down the wing and fired past Julius Hudacek.

Increasingly, the Finns were in control of the game. The latter half of the second period and much of the third was dictated by the visitor. However, there was no end product. Jokerit came close, but Hudacek kept Spartak in the game. And when overtime began, it was the home team that got the verdict thanks to a Martin Bakos goal from the first attack of the extras.

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Dinamo (Riga) Dinamo (Riga)
Jokerit (Helsinki) Jokerit (Helsinki)
Kunlun Red Star (Beijing) Kunlun Red Star (Beijing)
Metallurg (Magnitogorsk) Metallurg (Magnitogorsk)
Neftekhimik (Nizhnekamsk) Neftekhimik (Nizhnekamsk)
Salavat Yulaev (Ufa) Salavat Yulaev (Ufa)
SKA (Saint Petersburg) SKA (Saint Petersburg)
Spartak (Moscow) Spartak (Moscow)
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