I'm gong to have to step back my critique of goalie Semyon Varlamov after the last three games for Lokomotiv, because he's finally getting his feet under him. To catch us up, we go back to last Wednesday, where Vitaly Kolesnik was in the nets for a 3-2 loss to Yugra. The bad guys were up 2-0 before Alexei Kalyuzhny got his fifth, and 3-1 when former NHL vet Viktor Kozlov netted his first late in the game. Not surprisingly, coach Tom Rowe went with Varlamov on Saturday against Metallurg Magnitogorsk- the team with Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar.
The first goal- for Magnito- was scored by former Fort Wayne Komet Justin Hodgman. Justin played on the back to back to back Turner Cup winners from 2007-10, though he only had 7 goals spread across 20 games in those three years. His goal was a clean breakaway, and Denis Plotnikov poked one underneath Valamov in a scramble 5 1/2 minutes into the second to make it 2-0.
Then came the Yegor Averin show. 2 minutes into the third, a Metallurg player threw one out from behind the net right to Averin, who slammed it behind the goalie for a 2-1 deficit. It was much later- just under 2 1/2 left in regulation- when Alexander Chernikov of Loko did the same thing, hitting Averin almost exactly in the same spot, and he slammed it through again for his 6th of the season and a 2-2 tie. They went to the shootout, and seven players- including Malkin- failed to score before Daniil Apal'kov beat the Magnito goalie for the 3-2 win. Shootout goals don't count in player stats, but Daniil has three regulation goals.
That brings us to this morning, and the battle with Traktor Chelyabinsk, who led the Eastern Conference with 10 wins, a shootout loss, and 4 regular losses. Last season hero Emil Galimov got things started at 5:06 of the first, unassisted on a power play for his second goal, to put us up 1-0. We were tied at 1-1 going into the second when Sergei Plotnikov scored his 4th- with an assist from Averin- one minute in to make it 2-1. Traktor tied it again early in the third, and we once again went through overtime to the shootout. Varlamov this time stopped five opposing shooters, while Traktor's Michael Garnett- a Canadian vet of the KHL with 21 games in the NHL with Atlanta- stopped four... the one that got away was a shot by Alexei Kruchinin, a winger still looking for his first regulation goal. His shootout score, though, gave us a 3-2 win and a record of 8 wins, 5 SO wins, and 4 losses. It pulls us back within one point of rampaging Dynamo Moscow, who have won 6 striaght. We play them 2 games from now, next Monday, in Yaroslavl. Before that, though, we play Wednesday in Ekaterinberg against the perpetually struggling Avtomobilists.
Speaking of struggling, Dinamo Minsk fired their coach this weekend. Kari Heikkila, a Finn who led Karpat to the S-M Liiga title in 2004, got canned for the team's 5 win, one OT win, one OT loss and 9 loss start (despite the fact that that's just the fourth worst record in the KHL). He is replaced by Alexander Andriyevsky, who spent some playing time long ago in the IHL with Chicago and Indianapolis. Good luck with that.