Just a glancing blow to the KHL tonight, as they are currently on a 9-day “international break”. Traktor from the eastern conference has taken over the overall lead, and is certainly pulling away as Amur continues to struggle to maintain their early pace. Traktor leads by 12 in the East, with Avangard right on Amur’s tail. Amur has shown a sign of life in a two-game set against Barys; though losing the first 5-2, they blew out Astana 7-1 in the second to go into the break. Magnitogorsk continues to drive back into the race, winning 4 straight and putting the heat on both Barys and Ak Bars. Poor Automobilst continues to struggle, posting a 4-20-6 record thus far, despite taking Traktor to OT last week. And a shout out to Automobist captain Andrei Subbotin, who played his 1,000th top-level game in Russia in a 6-3 loss to Magnitogorsk.
SKA continues to hold a 9 point lead over Minsk in the west, with Dynamo Moscow trying to keep pace. The other metro Moscow teams wish things were going that good. CSKA (Red Army) lost 4 straight in December (1 in OT), and Spartak lost 10-2 and 5-1 decisions before an OT loss to close out the break. Vityaz joins Automobilst with 20 losses (6-20-6). Traktor is the only 20-win team at 20-7-5.
Now the big news is the return of hockey to Yaroslavl. The reborn Lokomotiv team played its first two games this week, both at home. On Monday, 9047 fans packed into the arena and were not disappointed. The opening opponent was Neftyanik (the Oilmen) of Almetyeusk, an Ak Bars affiliate located just west of Kazan. Dmitry Maltsev netted a goal at 13:19 of the first to put Loko on top 1-0. In the second period, Oleg Yashin (who comes over after a 14 game stint at Titan Klin) got his 6th of the season at 2:41. The third period was a big one. Cyril Kasputin made it 3-0 at 2:01. Then on a power play, Daniel Erdankov (coming off a 25-game run at Sokol) scored his 12th of the season to put it at 4-0. Almetyeusk broke the shutout of Goalie Nikita Lozhkin (who stopped 22 of 23 shots) at 13:41, but justshy of three minutes later, Alex Kruchinin (who played 7 games at VMF St. Petersburg) netted his 5th of the year for a 5-1 final score. Timothy Tankeev, who also came over from Klin, had a pair of assists as Loko scored 5 goals on just 19 shots.
Thursday a crowd of 9,000 saw Lozhkin be a 20-year-old master yet again, as he stopped all 28 shots in a 2-0 win over Ariada-Akpars of Vollzhsk ( a town halfway between Kazan and Ufa, affiliated with Neftekhimik). Maltsev assisted on both goals, the first by Daniel Romantsev at 10:55 of the first, and the second by Maxim Zyuzyakin at 5:34 of the second. Again, the new Lokomotiv team wasn’t especially active on offense (outshot 28-16) but Lozhkin was the hero, having stopped 40 of 41 shots in the two games. Next game is Tuesday vs Molot-Prikamye of Perm.