|2009 Continental Hockey League (KHL)|
Prospects season starts: Ak Bars - Avangard
The first KHL round has seen an interesting match in Kazan, where local Ak Bars challenged Jagr's Avangard Omsk. Avangard has been completely revamped during the summer as they had 21 new players in order to get by the disappointing 07-08 season, while Ak Bars kept the core of the team, being more concentrated in adding some quality imports to their rosters. The Kazan team had many not available players, a fact that allowed head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov to dress more youngsters than usual.
Match's first chance arrives after two minutes, when Zaripov centers the puck and Morozov tries the deflection, John Grahame doesn't get surprised and stops the puck. Four minutes later Avangard replies with an Jagr-Rosa combination. The former New York Ranger serves Rosa on the left, who loses the puck, but manages to pick it up after an instant. The Czech points the leg on the ice and while turning gets rid of Emelin, beating Dubielewicz with a nice wristshot on his left.
Ak Bars reacts and at 6'50” can count on a powerplay after a foul play by Avangard's Anton Belov. Dubielewicz handles well a counterattack by Popov and the powerplay becomes double as Ezhov stops Zaripov dirtily. Playing on a 5-on-3 the host puts pressure over Avangard, but all they can do is a couple of point shots saved by Grahame.
Midway through the period Jukka Hentunen is sent to the sin bin because of a penalty against Jaromir Jagr (New York Rangers), but it's a flashy breakaway by Morozov that is the highlight of the period: he takes the puck in the neutral zone, arrives in front of Grahame making a couple of fakes but his nice-timed backhander is wide. The game falls asleep for the rest of the period as the tactics side prevailed, both teams can't break the opponent's net.
The second period's start makes the attendance hold their breath. Alexei Emelin (Montreal Canadiens) and Jakub Klepis get into the penalty box in a quick succession and on a 4-on-4 Danis Zaripov breaks in style in the offensive zone, spoiling the space left by the opponent defence, and scores past Grahame with a great wrister that goes in top-shelf, in the left corner. Avangard replies just after, Pavel Rosa serves Jaromir Jagr, but Dubielewicz stops his shot. The game goes on with many interruptions as the referees' strict judgement keeps on sending players to the bench. Midway through the game the teams face an unusual 4-on-3 situation and Ak Bars is the team who gets the best of it as Grigory Shafigulin picks up the puck in the neutral, outskates Dmitri Ryabykin and with a spectacular 1-on-1 move puts the puck in the back of the net for the go-ahead goal. Bilyaletdinov's team controls the game and until the second horn the score is kept in their favour.
In the third period's start Avangard attacks head down, but after three minutes Ak Bars is really near to the third goal as Obukhov, during a penalty killing action, steals a puck in the neutral zone, skates towards the net and serves Hentunen completely open on the right, but he misses the KO hit and sends it wide. A couple of minutes later Grahame makes a big time glove save against a quick counterattack by Ak Bars' captain Morozov. At the sixth minute Volkov gets the puck from Ezhov and with a perfectly timed long pass through the neutral zone launches Malyshev who easily gets rid of Kosmachev and ties it up.
The guests insist and a minute later Popov serves Vyacheslav Belov who, with a nice stickhandling effort, gets in front of Dubielewicz, great reply by the goalkeeper as he slides and rejects the shot with the glove.
But when the referee blows a penalty against Ryabykin Ak Bars has again the room to skate forward and the guests see it as Grahame has to deal with much pressure, especially against Morozov. The guests manage to kill the penalty, but Kazan insists and gets the man advantage again as Kuryanov came sent out. Ak Bars' first line is on ice and this time leaves no room for Avangard's hopes: at the eleventh minute a very accurate wrister by Morozov from the left side gets in the back of the net for the go-ahead goal. One minute later Vyacheslav Belov is punished with a two-minute penalty and Ak Bars completes the poker again with Morozov, who pulls out Grahame's bottle with a big shot from the right circle.
Avangard doesn't manage to strike back despite a double powerplay later in the third period and the home team can celebrate their first victory of the season.
Ak Bars' Prospects
9 Andrei Pervyshin (St. Louis Blues)
For the occasion plays in the first line with Nikulin and doesn't look out of place. Has showed much both on defense and offense. He moved the puck well especially with the man advantage and showed some offensive skills, like his big shot at the eight minute, joined with a solid defensive play. He suffered a bit Jagr's technique and Volkov's dynamicity but overall he looked good.
59 Vyacheslav Buravchikov
Played in his usual third line, has changed partner as in the offseason Ak Bars moved away Zubarev for Kosmachev. Committing hard, he showed more confidence and more maturity. Has played effectively in the offensive side, not only with a nice effort at the twenty-fourth, but also drawing two powerplays in his team's favour.
74 Alexei Emelin (Montreal Canadiens)
He would have played a very good game if he wasn't the responsible of the opponent's first goal as he made himself be beaten by Rosa twice. Going ahead in the match he gained confidence and with his solid, aggressive play has confirmed to be a core player in the organization, and that he was national team quality. Has to work a bit on his shift-by-shift confidence, but overall he didn't look bad, has protected Doobielewicz a lot even having some rough time with Svitov.
21 Mikhail Zhukov (Edmonton Oilers)
Plays in the first line because of Zinoviev's injury and Mortensson's absence, but can't guarantee the same quality even if he tries hard and sets up well sometimes. He doesn't play in the Powerplay as Hentunen takes his role there, but he is iced in the penalty killing with some success. Has a good chance at the twenty-eight, but he doesn't have enough angle allowing Grahame an easy save.
69 Aleksandr Burmistrov
Burmistrov is a late-91 born, eligible for 2010 NHL draft, left winger who is a national team member since the last season. He was among the best scorers at the last Ivan Hlinka tournament, scoring five points in four games with four assists.
He played only a couple of shifts with Petrov and Kazionov, having hard time against pros, causing two turnovers in the neutral zone. He is a promising player but has still tons to be seen. To be revised in more games.
90 Kirill Petrov (New York Islanders)
He didn't had enough ice time to showcase his talent. As usual he displayed his good technique, but hasn't concretized much. Hopefully with the season going on he will have more chances.
3 Nikita Nikitin (St. Louis Blues)
After playing a very good preseason, Nikitin has been promoted to the club's first line. He played a solid game, only a little bit inferior to Pervyshin, but overall it was a very good performance. He made no errors, closing well the gates especially in the first part of the match and in the third period. He played solidly along the boards and it seems that he gained some needed maturity.
77 Denis Ezhov (Buffalo Sabres)
Also Ezhov has played a solid game, but he lacked of any offensive production. Ironically he got an secondary assist, serving Volkov for Avangard's second goal. He played aggressively throughout all the match and was often iced on the powerplay to screen the goalie with his size.
7 Alexei Cherepanov (New York Rangers)
Cherepanov frankly didn't play at his usual level, making little mistakes, but without being a menace for the opponents' defense, suffering especially Panins' physical play. As a minor explanation, it seems that he played with a non-severe groin injury, but his overall effort left to desire.
23 Viktor Alexandrov (St. Louis Blues)
Alexandrov too has deluded in his first match after the very good 07-08 campaign with Metallurg Novokuznetsk. He played in the fourth line as Gersonsky preferred Malyshev in the third, the place where he played in most of preseason, with Svitov and Volkov.
He tried hard in all the match to be dangerous with his quick movements with the puck, but wasn't a factor. To be revised in the team's mentality.