Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Mikko Lehtonen made a triumphant return to the KHL. The Finnish defenseman played his first game for SKA and had a goal and two assists as the Army Men overcame the defending champion, Avangard.

Avangard Omsk 1 SKA St. Petersburg 5 (1-0, 0-3, 0-2)

Mikko Lehtonen made his name in two impressive spells at Jokerit. His first season saw him produce 49 points for the Finns and earned a move to Toronto. Then, after the pandemic delayed the start of the NHL season, he was loaned back to Helsinki and picked up a point a game last fall. However, his time in the NHL did not go as well as hoped: the Maple Leafs quickly traded him to Columbus and the Blue Jackets wanted him to go to their farm club at the start of this season. Lehtonen decided that life in the KHL was better than playing in the AHL and accepted a deal that will keep him in St. Petersburg until 2025.

Monday’s trip to Avangard was his first engagement for his new team, with SKA looking to build on a two-game winning streak while the Hawks wanted to bounce back from Friday’s loss at Ak Bars. Lehtonen slotted into the second defensive pair alongside Mat Robinson, another player who arrived in Petersburg after the start of the current season.

The opening goal arrived inside the first four minutes. SKA had already killed a penalty but Avangard kept its momentum and went in front shortly after the teams returned to full strength. Arseny Gritsyuk was the scorer, racing away from Stepan Falkovsky and outwitting Lars Johansson in the visitor’s net. The 20-year-old posted his sixth point in six games, confirming that the Army Men do not have a monopoly on young talent in the KHL.

The home team was good value for its lead at the first intermission, but the game turned around in the middle frame. SKA’s first power play brought the tying goal, with Mikko Lehtonen marking his return to the KHL with a goal off a Nikita Gusev feed. The visitor kept up the pressure, got another power play, and extended its lead in the 26th minute. This time Lehtonen was the provider, setting up Marat Khusnutdinov for a wrister that gave Simon Hrubec no chance. The home team’s problems intensified a couple of minutes later when Andrei Kuzmenko burst down the left and fired home number three.

Late in the session, Avangard got a couple of power play chances of its own but was unable to make them count. And SKA looked the more likely team to score, with Joonas Kemppainen and Gusev going close either side of the second break. Gradually, Avangard tried to pick up the pace and in doing so gave Lehtonen the chance to show off his defensive props. A big hit on Nail Yakupov stopped the Hawks’ dangerman in his tracks as he looked to attack against his former club. Later, there was a presentable chance for Vladimir Bryukvin, whose shot sparked a flurry of action around Johanson’s net, and another home power play that came to naught.

To wrap up a fine evening’s work for SKA, the visitor scored twice more in the final stages. On 58:01, Lehtonen got another assist as Valentin Zykov made it 4-1 before Avangard could consider withdrawing Hrubec. Then, 50 seconds later, Kuzmenko’s second completed an emphatic victory.

Photo: 25.10.21. KHL Championship 2021-2022. Avangard (Omsk) - SKA (St.Petersburg)

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Related clubs

Avangard (Omsk) Avangard (Omsk)
SKA (Saint Petersburg) SKA (Saint Petersburg)
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