Two teams battling it out for a playoff spot in their respective conferences went head-to-head in Thursday’s early game in Khabarovsk — and Amur got the verdict.
The Tigers, perhaps surprisingly given their lowly placing in the table, have the best record in the KHL in the first period of games. Once again, Amur got a fast start in this game. The home team dictated much of the play in the opening frame and turned that advantage into an opening goal in the 18th minute thanks to Alexander Polunin.
Early in the second, Danil Faizullin made it 2-0, and Amur continued to dominate the game. At times, it seemed that visiting goalie Anton Todykov was all that stood between Vityaz and annihilation, a point not lost on head coach Mikhail Kravets after the game.
Todykov’s resistance meant that the visitor still had a chance of saving the game in the third period. Justin Danforth, back in the team after missing the trip to Sibir, came close to pulling a goal back early on before penalty trouble slowed Vityaz down. The second Amur power play of the session saw Polunin get his second of the game and effectively end the contest. Vitaly Popov got a consolation effort with five to play, but the points were on their way to the home team.
Avangard was looking to change a bit of history in this game — the Hawks have not won at home against CSKA since 2013. That’s a run of nine straight losses, including two in the Gagarin Cup final of 2019.
There were grounds for optimism in the home camp this time, though. Reid Boucher and Denis Zernov came into the game in fine form, both on seven-game productive streaks, and Avangard was in good form. Tuesday’s home win over Avtomobilist made it nine wins from 11 games for Bob Hartley’s team. With two losses in its last six, meanwhile, league leader CSKA was perhaps slightly below its usual high standards.
That optimism appeared justified early on. Klas Dahlbeck took a penalty in the first minute, and Zernov assisted Boucher as Avangard took the lead. Both players continued their streaks and, for a time, Avangard enjoyed the better of the game. CSKA recovered its composure, though, and came back into the game as the period wore on. Even so, the equalizer came as a surprise. There seemed to be little danger when Marsel Ibragimov thumped in a hopeful shot from center ice. But the puck bounced back off the boards, Nikita Soshnikov muscled Alexei Emelin out of the way and beat Simon Hrubec to send the teams into the intermission tied at 1-1.
The second period began with Brendan Leipsic putting CSKA in front with a backhander. After that, both teams had their chances, with Avangard enjoying more of the possession but CSKA always dangerous on the counter. Maxim Mamin, poised for his best ever KHL scoring this season, had two great chances to extend the Army Men’s lead. Hrubec stopped the first, but the 25-year-old forward would not be denied a second time and gave full value to Konstatin Okulov’s classy feed.
With a two-goal cushion, CSKA was able to close out the game comfortably enough. There was even time for rookie forward Maxim Sorkin to pouch his first KHL goal. The 20-year-old potted an empty-netter to wrap up a 4-1 scoreline.
SKA produced a devastating first period to pile on the misery for Avtomobilist. Down 1-5 after 20 minutes, the visitor slumped to a 10th straight loss. It was also the fourth time the Motormen allowed five or more in a game during that run. For head coach Bill Peters, the skid is something of a conundrum: after all, his team started the season impressively, winning six of its first seven and taking up its accustomed position among the Eastern Conference leaders.
Today’s game did not even offer the consolation of a promising start. SKA got into action straight away and led 2-0 after five minutes. Stepan Starkov, making only his second appearance for the Army Men, got his first goal for his new team then followed up with a helper as Kirill Marchenko doubled the lead. True, Pavel Datsyuk pulled one back for Avto against his former club, but the story was not about to change. Twice, Alexei Makeyev went to the bin, and twice SKA took advantage. Joonas Kemppainen and Linden Vey extended the home lead, Jakub Kovar returned to the bench on 16:20.
He was replaced by Vladimir Galkin, but Anton Burdasov scored on the new goalie within a minute. And in the second period, Avto’s problems were compounded when Alexei Vasilevsky was removed from the game after crunching Miro Aaltonen into the boards. SKA also got a 5-on-3 power play without adding to the lead.
The pick of SKA’s goals came in the second period. Geoff Platt tweaked the home team’s nose with a short-handed marker, and Andrei Kuzmenko responded in style. Vladimir Tkachyov played the puck to the slot, Kuzmenko allowed it to slip between his legs then slid the stick through after it and flipped the disc over Galkin’s shoulder to burn a new entry onto his highlight reel.
It wasn’t quite the last word. Although the game was clearly long since decided, SKA added a seventh late on. Tkachyov was the scorer, converting Artyom Shvets-Rogovoi’s pass after Danila Galenyuk’s slapshot was saved.