The first KHL goal of 2021 took some time in arriving. Sunday’s early game in Ufa needed overtime to separate the teams after two superb goaltending performances left the scoreboard blank after 60 minutes.
For Avtomobilist’s Jakub Kovar, this was the continuation of his good form prior to the New Year break. The Czech goalie posted back-to-back shut-outs before the holiday and took his run beyond 200 minutes here. Salavat Yulaev might point to the absence of Markus Granlund, a free-scoring component of the first line who found the net in his two previous games against Avto, but the visitor was without forwards Dan Sexton and Sergei Shumakov.
In the first period, the teams played cautiously, feeling each other out. The Motormen were slightly the livelier, and came closest to breaking the deadlock when Peter Holland hit Juha Metsola’s post. After the intermission, Ufa raised the tempo and looked the more dangerous of the teams, but Avto kept up the solid defense that brought it two shut-outs at the end of December. And Metsola was called upon to make the biggest save of regulation time when he padded away a Pavel Datsyuk effort in the third to preserve the scoreline and take the game to overtime.
In those extras, Ufa finally broke the deadlock. Sakari Manninen darted behind the net and fed the puck back to the slot, where Teemu Hartikainen moved it on for Philip Larsen to score at the back door. For the second time this season, Salavat Yulaev picked up a 1-0 overtime victory against Avtomobilist.
Neftekhimik began the New Year as it ended the old — on a winning note. Vyacheslav Butsayev’s team snapped a nine-game losing streak in its final outing of 2020 and built on that to blank playoff chasing Sibir.
For the visitor, meanwhile, this was a tough blow. Defeat leaves Nikolai Zavarukhin’s team five points adrift of eighth-placed Barys, having played four games more. The gap is far from insurmountable but dropping points against a struggling opponent piles the pressure on the men from Siberia.
Sibir’s frustrations were complete late in the third as the home team added a third goal thanks to Marat Khairullin. And the visitor found itself unable to grab even a consolation effort, with Evgeny Ivannikov recording his first shut-out of the season and, indeed, his first since Jan. 5 2014, when he blanked Lokomotiv while playing for Admiral.
Torpedo made it four wins in a row to open a nine-point gap over ninth-placed Sibir and tighten its grip on a playoff place. The visit to a Sochi team lifted by a 6-2 win over Severstal in its final game of 2020 might have been a tricky assignment for David Nemirovsky’s team, but a power play goal late in the first period from Damir Zhafyarov set the visitor on the path to victory.
Zhafyarov’s effort, his 17th of the season, snapped a 1-1 tie. Earlier, the 26-year-old hotshot was among the helpers as Andy Miele gave Torpedo the lead in the ninth minute, only for Vladislav Valentsov to cancel out the goal midway through the opening frame.
Things got better for Torpedo as the afternoon went on. Ziyat Paigin added another power play goal in the middle frame to give the visitor a two-goal lead. Then, at the start of the third, Chris Terry made it 4-1. The 31-year-old forward, who joined from Grand Rapids of the AHL just before the deadline, opened his KHL account in only his second game in the league. Terry went on to add another before Daniil Miromanov potted a late consolation for the home team.
Teemu Pulkkinen hit a hat-trick in the last nine minutes of this game to power Loko to an emphatic victory over Vityaz. The Finn also picked up two helpers as his team moved back to third in the Western Conference.
However, Vityaz was by no means out of the game. The visitor was competitive throughout the first period and, midway through the second, tested Eddie Pasquale in the home net. Mattias Tedenby and Ivan Larichev both brought big saves out of the Lokomotiv goalie. Then, at the start of the third, Linus Hultstrom pulled a goal back.
That seemed to set up an intriguing third period, especially after Vityaz calmly killed a 3-on-5 penalty. However, Pulkkinen quickly ensured that the home team was back in control. First he redirected a Denis Barantsev shot past Anton Todykov then, 19 seconds later, he got another assist as Artur Kayumov extended the lead. Vityaz lost Fyodor Malykhin, ejected for head butting, before Pulkkinen scored his second of the night on the power play. Mikhail Belyayev completed the scoring with another PP marker but Pulkkinen had the last word when he scored into an empty net.
Andrei Svetlakov potted an overtime winner to settle a thrilling battle in Moscow. The 24-year-old forward was also on target in regulation as the Army Men opened a 4-2 lead, but Jokerit roared back to tie the game in the third period.
The Finns were first to show, opening the scoring in the ninth minute when Jordan Schroeder rifled home a shot from the back door off a Brian O’Neill cross-ice feed. However, Maxim Shalunov tied it up late in the first period.
The second stanza began with O’Neill restoring Helsinki’s lead when he glided into the far post to convert Jesse Joensuu’s feed. But CSKA responded strongly. Svetlakov’s first of the game tied it up, then further tallies from Klas Dahlbeck and Maxim Sorkin put the Army Men in control. Sorkin’s goal was his third in the KHL as the 20-year-old makes the step up from Junior Hockey this season.
Jokerit’s fightback began midway through the third when Viktor Loov pulled a goal back after spotting Lars Johansson offering too great a space between his pads. Then that O’Neill-Schroeder partnership paid off once again, tying the scores with a goal that closely resembled the opener.
However, when it came to the extras, CSKA found the winner. Svetlakov did the damage, pouncing on a loose puck and sprinting down the ice to score an unassisted goal with the Jokerit defense trailing in his wake. The Army Men start the New Year by bouncing back to snap a two-game losing streak.
A goal from Shane Prince 54 seconds into overtime was enough to give Dinamo Minsk a hard-fought victory over Avangard. In a game that steadily picked up momentum, both teams had chances to take the two points before Dinamo secured its first win of the new year.
Minsk introduced three new players: Zack Mitchell, Pavel Dorofeyev and Denis Mosalyov, all of whom arrived in the last days before the trade deadline. Avangard had Ilya Kovalchuk on the team for his second appearance after his headline-grabbing arrival.
However, the first period was slow to ignite. The visitor was limited to just two shots on target but Dinamo struggled to extend goalie Igor Bobkov. And when Oliwer Kaski opened the scoring at the start of the second, it seemed that the lack of a cutting edge from Minsk might prove costly. Ryan Spooner tied the game, but Jiri Sekac ensured that Avangard would take a lead into the second intermission.
But Dinamo rallied at the start of the third, and Ilya Solovyov’s slap shot enabled Prince to bring his team level despite a challenge from Bob Hartley on the Omsk bench. A minute later, Minsk led for the first time when Roman Gorbunov scored off a Mosalyov assist but the advantage was gone in 13 seconds when Alexander Khokhlachyov’s forechecking forced an unlikely goal.
There was time for the teams to trade two more goals in regulation — Artyom Demkov for Minsk, Reid Boucher on the power play for Avangard — while both goalies made some big saves in the closing stages. But in overtime a penalty on Klim Kostin gave Dinamo its chance and Prince took advantage to seal the win.