A New Leader in the West

In the West, after the New Year, there was a long-awaited change of leader. Lokomotiv has been on the outskirts of the summit throughout the season, and in December they got in amazing shape. In the last eight matches, he suffered only one sensational defeat from the outsider Barys in a shootout and, taking advantage of the misfires of opponents, rose to first place in the conference table.

Moreover, the railwaymen took points from direct competitors. For example, they scored five goals against the powerful Torpedo. Then they managed to beat Dynamo thanks to a brace by Alexander Polunin. Finally, in 2024, Igor Nikitin's men won a strong-willed 2-1 away win over SKA.

The main secret of Yaroslavl's success lies in a reliable defense. They have conceded the fewest goals in the league by a margin – 89. The closest pursuer, Salavat Yulaev, has 100. The team also divides the lead in terms of the number of meetings by "zero" - six. At the same time, in terms of the number of goals (122), it is only in 13th place. And its best sniper Maxim Shalunov has only 15 goals. However, the mentor is not shy about his commitment to protection.

"I don't know about others, but we play the hockey we believe in. We do what we know how to do," the coach explained.

Loko's good performance is largely due to Daniil Isaev's amazing performances on the last line. For example, he is in the top 5 among his colleagues this season in terms of save percentage (93.4%), and leads in terms of goals against average (1.71). In some encounters, Daniil almost single-handedly pulls out his teammates, as, for example, in the aforementioned game against Dynamo, where he made 41 saves.

Spartak and SKA misfires

But Spartak, on the contrary, fell into a small crisis, suffering three defeats in a row. However, all of them can be called illogical. A misfire in an away match against a hopeless Vityaz is akin to an accident. The Muscovites were leading by the 25th minute with a score of 4:1, but allowed the squad from the Moscow region to restore the balance, and then put an end to it 34 seconds before the end of overtime.

Following this, the Red-Whites lost in two metropolitan derbies in three days. But again, they had the right to expect a better result in both. In the confrontation with CSKA, Ivan Fedotov reminded of himself, parrying 32 flicks and allowing only Pavel Poryadin to score at the end of the second period.

The Army team took advantage of their chances in counterattacks. Plus, Vladislav Kamenev caught the courage. The striker not only scored a brace, but also assisted Mikhail Grigorenko. Thus, Spartak lost to a principled opponent for the third time in the current KHL season.

After that, Alexei Zhamnov's team had a bright meeting with Dynamo. Curiously, the opponents again failed to determine the strongest in regular time. But if in the previous hockey players scored 15 goals, then in the reporting - only five. The fans still enjoyed it. Eric O'Dell's brace allowed Alexei Kudashov's wards to secure a comfortable advantage. However, in the final period, the visitors took advantage of unnecessary penalties from their vis-à-vis, and accurate shots by Poryadin and Nikolai Goldobin helped them escape. And Ilya Kovalchuk, who returned to the lineup, scored an assist and scored the third point (2 + 1) after resuming his career.

In overtime, everything was decided by a gross mistake by the almost flawless Dmitry Nikolaev. He skated to the boards and made a pass from an awkward hand straight to Andrey Mironov. As a result, the hosts played a quick combination, and Cedric Puckett ended the game. Despite what happened, Zhamnov stood up for the goalkeeper and complained that he just missed hockey and played a little.

SKA also did not start the year in the best way, losing 1-2 at home to Lokomotiv and Metallurg. But there is no need to talk about any system of failures either, since the St. Petersburg team could well have prevailed. For example, they significantly outshot Magnitogorsk — 44:32, but conceded the decisive goal in overtime.

Revival of CSKA

But CSKA came to its senses. At the end of December, the Army team fell into another dive and almost dropped to seventh place in the Western Conference. Few people at the beginning of the season could have imagined that the current Gagarin Cup winner would look so nondescript.

However, at a difficult moment, the Muscovites gave out a series of three home victories. In addition to Spartak, we managed to upset Severstal and Kunlun. However, in the last fight, there was a fly in the ointment. The Red-Blues secured a comfortable three-goal lead, but in the end allowed the Chinese squad to reduce the gap to a minimum.

Otherwise, the pros outweigh the pros. Fedotov conceded only once in two matches in this segment. The leading forwards, who had not been pleasing before, also came to their senses. Grigorenko scored two points in each of the meetings. Kamenev does not lag behind him. And Konstantin Okulov scored a brace in the game against the outsider and assisted Grigorenko.

Severstal had an equally successful start to the year in the West. Cherepovets consistently left no chance to Amur, Vityaz and Sochi and got closer to getting into the playoffs.

It is likely that Andrey Kozyrev's team would have had to solve other problems if it were not for Kirill Pilipenko. In the scoring race, he is second only to Reed Boucher (25) and Goldobin (34) with 29 goals. Along the way, the athlete broke the club's record for the number of goals in the regular season, set by Vadim Shipachyov. In addition, the forward assisted his teammates 22 times. Another striker, Nikita Korostelev, who moved from Metallurg in the fall, does not shine with such performance, but he attracted the attention of Roman Rotenberg and won the Channel One Cup as part of the Rossiya 25 national team.

Metalurh's tough wins

In the East, Metalurh still has no equals. At the same time, Magnitogorsk in 2024 faced difficulties even in confrontations with outsiders. But we managed to end 2023 on a positive note. After an unexpected defeat from Lada, Andrey Razin's wards left no chance to Ak Bars thanks to a hat-trick by Daniil Vovchenko, and also dealt with Kunlun.

But all the matches in the new year turned out to be difficult and reached overtime. To begin with, Magnitogorsk almost sensationally lost to Sochi on the road. After the opening period, the southerners led 2-0. But in the second, the favorite equalized, and in overtime, Denis Zernov put an end to it. The coach of the guests even complained that his wards, apparently, did not move away from the holidays.

Then they failed to cope with Neftekhimik at all. However, on Christmas Day, they managed to get the better of SKA in St. Petersburg. As already mentioned, the hosts had the advantage in the number of shots, but the young Ilya Nabokov played above all praise, making 43 saves and almost setting a personal best. Moreover, Ivan Zinchenko managed to upset him in the tenth minute. But Robin Press restored the status quo on the 45th.

But Igor Geraskin's decisive goal raised serious questions from the St. Petersburg team. Running away on the counterattack, the forward hooked Artem Sergeev, and he fell and could not continue to participate in the episode. As a result, the striker calmly opened up for a pass from Danila Yurov and made an accurate shot. By the way, this goal was his debut after moving to the team.

"When the guys play, everything has to be according to the rules. That's what they're for. Even in the yard there are rules when injustice is always punished," Rotenberg did not hold back his emotions after the final siren.

Return of Tkachev

Avangard also had a slight decline. In many ways, it turned out to be associated with the illness of Vladimir Tkachev. One of the league's top scorers missed four games in late December and early January. In them, Omsk barely pressed Sibir in overtime, won a difficult victory over Lada, lost heavily to Barys and, finally, failed to cope with Salavat Yulaev at home. Indicatively, in total, the Hawks scored only eight goals in this segment.

Mykhailo Kravets and his assistants tried different options. At first, Valentin Pyanov was assigned to the leading link to Reed Boucher and Ryan Spooner. Then his place was taken by newcomer Damir Zhafyarov. He even managed to distinguish himself in Togliatti. But then there was a misfire in the duel with Ufa, where the leading forwards of the team did not shine.

Fortunately, Tkachev returned to the ranks and already in the 29th second hit the goal of Lada in the next match against this team, contributing to an important success. And then he assisted Boucher in overtime in Vladivostok and helped Avangard take away the points.

Salavat Yulaev's balance sheet

Also pleasantly surprising are the results of Salavat Yulaev, which, like several other teams in the league, started the year with a series of victories. First, Ufa dealt with one of the direct competitors Avangard on the road, upsetting Ilya Proskuryakov four times. Then we managed to put the squeeze on Sibir on the road in overtime. Finally, Viktor Kozlov's wards sent five goals to the goal of Barys.

Unlike other giants, the Bashkortostan can boast of a balance between defense and attack. On the one hand, only Lokomotiv concedes fewer goals, and Alexander Samonov is one of the best goaltenders in the KHL. On the other hand, in the East, only Metalurh scored more goals (148 against 141). At the same time, the coach wants to see spectacular hockey from his wards.

"Active work with the puck and quick decision-making, sharp transitions from defense to offense and back. We adhere to this philosophy," the specialist explained.

Salavat also gathered excellent legionnaires in the attacking line. Aleksander Chmielewski scored 42 points. Josh Livo has 29 fewer appearances, but he arrived in Russia later and made only 26 appearances. But the Canadian has a current scoring streak of six meetings, in which he knocked out 12 points.

Rumors about Radulov

Of the statistical achievements, the accomplishment of Alexander Radulov is noteworthy. The experienced forward, who does not shine this season and was even temporarily withdrawn from the Ak Bars squad, came in third place in the list of the league's all-time top scorers. He assisted Vadim Shipachyov in the game against Admiral Vladivostok and scored his 686th career point in the KHL. At the same time, his partner, who scored a double, is second with 908 and is only 20 behind the record holder Sergey Mozyakin.

It is noteworthy that Radulov achieved this success against the backdrop of rumors about the end of his career. According to media reports, the veteran is allegedly ready to take such a step because of family difficulties. However, his agent Alexander Chernykh only laughed at the news and assured that Kazan intends to offer the client a new contract.

And Nikita Gusev took an active part in the defeat of Kunlun (7:1), scoring a double and assisting his teammates three times, and repeated Dynamo's record for points scored in one game.

Atanasov's injury

Unfortunately, there was also an event that seriously overshadowed the New Year holidays for all fans of domestic hockey. We are talking about the injury of Vasily Atanasov in the confrontation with Kunlun. Already in his debut, the young star of Torpedo, trying to avoid a tough collision with his opponent, crashed into Austin Vaughn. As a result, the forward still fell on the ice, and the opponent landed on top of him right on his knee.

It immediately became clear that it would not be limited to a banal bruise. The athlete left the court with great difficulty and never returned. Igor Larionov frightened the public at a press conference, complaining that the ward was out for a long time. There was even talk of a cruciate ligament rupture.

Fortunately, the initial predictions did not come true. According to press reports, Atanasov avoided the worst and is guaranteed to help Nizhny Novgorod in the playoffs. And the head coach of Avtozavod even named the approximate recovery time - four to six weeks.

Admiral training on January 1

But the Admiral had no holidays at all. On December 29 and 30, Vladivostok played two home games against Neftekhimik, and on January 1 they trained with heavy loads. According to defender Yury Pautov, the schedule even included an hour-long lesson with cylinders. Coach Leonid Tambiev confirmed this information and explained such a tough step by the need to prepare for the away game against Sibir, which took place on January 3.

In turn, the club's sports director Pavel Zhitkov assured that the issue was agreed in accordance with the legal regulations of the KHL, and the hockey players themselves reacted to the situation with understanding. Such measures did not help. The Sailors first lost in Novosibirsk, and then lost in overtime to Ak Bars and Avangard and share the last line in the East with Barys.