Successful premiere of SKA

One of the main events of February in the KHL was the long-awaited move of SKA to a new arena. It was assumed that this would happen only next season, but the club decided to move earlier. In the debut match at the SKA Arena ice palace on February 11, the St. Petersburg team faced off against Sochi. The meeting was preceded by a parting speech from Gazprom Chairman of the Board Alexey Miller. And a small performance was demonstrated by Olympic figure skating champion Alina Zagitova.

But the main show was waiting for the fans on the site. The scoring was opened already in the 40th second. It is symbolic that Sergei Tolchinsky, who had recently been out of action after a power move by Nikita Kholodilin, upset the guests. If the southerners were still holding their own in the opening segment, then in the remaining two they fell apart and conceded seven goals, answering with only one. The most productive hockey player among the hosts was Marat Khairullin, who scored three points. And Tolchinsky scored a double.

The stands eventually attracted 21,481 spectators, breaking the world attendance record for hockey arenas. A little later, the chairman of the board of directors of SKA, Alexander Medvedev, said that taking into account volunteers, relatives and guests, 23,745 people were present at the game.

The athletes themselves never ceased to admire the new building. For example, goalkeeper Nikita Serebryakov called it the eighth wonder of the world. And head coach Roman Rotenberg compared the arena to the Hermitage in terms of its importance for the city. By the way, one of the first to be released into the facility was a cat from this museum. The animal was even dressed up in a team uniform specially made for it.

The following confrontations here also turned out to be successful for the two-time Gagarin Cup winners, although not as bright. Lada managed to break the resistance only in the end, thanks to a power play goal by Mikhail Vorobyov - 2:1. But the game was more remembered for Vladislav Semin’s brutal force on Alex Galchenyuk. The striker was injured and the defender was sent off for five minutes. An angry Rotenberg emphasized after the final siren that in the NHL such a foul would have resulted in a two-game disqualification.

Next, SKA defeated Salavat Yulaev and again scored only twice. The main hero was Serebryakov, who stopped all 36 shots and recorded his fifth shutout this season.

Return of Ak Bars to the old arena

If SKA moved to a new stadium, then Ak Bars, on the contrary, temporarily returned to the old one. This is due to the holding of a number of events at the Tatneft Arena as part of the Future Games. Kazan residents had to remember what it was like to play in the old Sports Palace built in 1966.

The team spent the last season here even before the creation of the KHL. Moreover, it ended in the spring of 2006 with the second victory in the Russian championship in the club’s history. And then Zinetula Bilyaletdinov was also leading the team. Since then, the facility has only hosted matches of the Bars farm club, which plays in the VHL.

In the first match here, Ak Bars faced one of its principal rivals - the leader of the Eastern Conference, Metallurg. In order to arouse a sense of nostalgia in the fans, the opponents entered the court in retro uniforms. Only 3 thousand people gathered in the stands; they simply could not accommodate more. Therefore, the opportunity to attend the game was given to season ticket holders.

They witnessed a vibrant battle with many dangerous moments. In total, the hockey players made 80 shots on target, but scored only three times. Magnitogorsk hit a wall in the face of Timur Bilyalov, who saved 40 shots. Only Nikita Mikhailis upset him. Alexander Radulov scored the winning goal in the end. As for Bilyalov, the day before he kept his possessions intact in the derby with Neftekhimik and strengthened his leadership in the number of clean sheets in the current KHL season (seven).

Lokomotiv thriller match

While SKA is confidently gaining points, Lokomotiv, which until recently was at the top of the Western table, clearly lacks stability. Indicative in this regard were two home matches with capital teams, which were separated by just a couple of days.

In the first, the Yaroslavl team lost heavily to Spartak - 1:5. The teams exchanged goals in the opening, but in the second period Ivan Morozov and Michal Chaikovsky forced Daniil Isaev to capitulate. And in the end, Shane Prince and Mikhail Maltsev, who had recovered from injury, entered their names into the protocol. At the same time, it cannot be said that the railway workers looked worse than the red and white ones. They made almost twice as many shots (38 versus 20), but only once managed to break through the courageous Andrei Kareev.

Next, Loko had a bright meeting with CSKA, where he himself showed character. Everything started out great for Igor Nikitin’s team. Already by the sixth minute, Alexander Polunin and Rushan Rafikov provided the hosts with a comfortable advantage. But shortly before the break, the army team just as quickly restored the balance, scoring twice in 76 seconds. In the second period, the teams exchanged goals, and in the final period, Vladislav Kamenev brought the Muscovites ahead. But Rafikov managed to score in the minority 28 seconds before the end of regulation time. And in overtime, Denis Alekseev scored a spectacular point. He burst into the opponent's zone, beat the defender beautifully and threw accurately - 5:4.

Dynamo's victory in the shootout

Dynamo, on the contrary, maintains the pace of SKA. The competitors won four victories in a row. In the fight for first place and the Continental Cup, three points separate them, but the blue and white have a meeting in hand.

Among other things, they managed, despite the absence of one of the best scorers, Cedric Paquette, to win the most important strong-willed victory in Magnitogorsk. The guests managed to recover after a disastrous first period, when Ilya Konovalov was shot through by Nikita Grebenkin and Igor Geraskin. The proprietary majority, realized by Artyom Ilyenko, helped reduce the gap. And Ilya Kablukov equalized the score.

In the 52nd minute, the Muscovites took the lead, not without some luck. Dmitry Rashevsky shot a nickel from the goal line, and the puck ricocheted off the skate of Valery Orekhov onto the target. But the Magnitogorsk team took off the goalkeeper in the end and saved themselves 33 seconds before the siren. As a result, the fate of the confrontation was decided in a shootout, where Alexei Kudashov’s team turned out to be a little more accurate, and Nikita Gusev scored the decisive attempt.

In the next match with Avtomobilist, Dynamo again had to work hard, and Gusev again scored the fateful goal - this time in overtime. Along the way, he became the first hockey player in the history of the league to surpass the 80-point mark in two regular seasons. And he is only one thing away from his personal best (82). Andrei Mironov, with his 128th assist, became the best assisting defender in the history of the blue and whites.

It is worth noting a couple of statistical achievements of Dynamo’s competitors in the Western Conference. Nikolai Goldobin set Spartak's record for the most points in a season, beating the 42-year-old achievement of Alexander Kozhevnikov (71). And CSKA forward Sergei Plotnikov scored the 500th point of his KHL career. Only seven people have more, and the leader in this indicator is Sergei Mozyakin (928).

The battle for leadership in the East

An even more exciting battle for leadership unfolded in the East. Until recently, it seemed that the main fight to the last would be between Metallurg and Avangard. But the duet’s misfires allowed “Salavat Yulaev” to get closer to him. Now the first position is separated from the third by only two points, while all teams have the same number of games.

Magnitogorsk's two defeats have already been mentioned. The “hawks” are also unable to boast of stability, alternating brilliant successes with deafening failures. Indicative statistics: in the last 11 matches they lost six times. For example, in early February they allowed the Magnitogorsk team to escape a second before the final siren and capitulated in overtime.

A few days later, the defeat of SKA followed with nine goals against someone else. Then Mikhail Kravets' team appeared as a pale shadow of themselves, failing to cope with Spartak.

But the confrontations with “Sibir” and “Salavat Yulaev” were truly revealing. Avangard won the first with a score of 7:2, and in the second they were defeated with a similar result. The reason lies not only in psychology, but also in weak defense. In Ufa, the team quickly took the lead, but, having made a number of blunders, they themselves allowed the opponent to turn the tide of an unsuccessful match. In total, she has 170 missed goals. This is only 14th in the league.

Next, the Omsk team also failed to cope with Avtomobilist, allowing the Ekaterinburg team to score three times in the final period. And the most unpleasant thing is that the best KHL sniper Reed Boucher, who was left without goals in the last three meetings, went silent.

Unexpected heroes of “Salavat Yulaev”

But, as already mentioned, “Salavat Yulaev” took advantage of the favorites’ misfires, having gained excellent form on the eve of the playoffs. In just eight days, he successively defeated CSKA, Ak Bars and Avangard and reduced the gap from second place in the table to a minimum.

Particularly noteworthy was the success in the home “green derby”, where Viktor Kozlov’s hockey players showed character. Already in the ninth minute, Artyom Galimov struck Alexander Samonov. But the hosts pulled themselves together and after the break twice took advantage of the Kazan team’s numerous dismissals. Moreover, the decisive goal was scored by Daniil Ogirchuk, who had previously only scored two goals in the KHL. This season he plays more often for the Toros farm club in the VHL. But having received a rare chance, the forward took advantage of it.

An unexpected hero was also found in the confrontation with Avangard. We are talking about Grigory Panin. The defender was never famous for his high performance and by the age of 38 had not even surpassed the 30-goal mark in the KHL regular championships. He immediately blocked his teammates' crosses twice, like a real striker, and scored the debut double in his career. He dedicated this achievement to his little daughter.

Only SKA interrupted the victorious march of the Ufa team. But even then they could have gained the upper hand in the Northern capital, because they scored 36 shots against 30 from the St. Petersburgers. However, Serebryakov caught his courage and failed to break through. Moreover, in the final period the guests were left with a double majority for a minute, but did not capitalize on it.

Takeoff of "Amur"

Only “Cupid” can boast of a more impressive series. The transformation of the Khabarovsk team is all the more surprising because they started the year ugly - they lost nine matches in a row. Despite the criticism, the management extended the agreement with Andrei Martemyanov - and it was right.

At the decisive moment, when four points were deducted from Siberia, his players improved: they won six victories in a row and soared to the coveted eighth place in the East. Now they are very close to making it to the KHL playoffs for the third time in history.

Moreover, “Cupid” has repeatedly demonstrated strength of spirit. For example, on February 4, he only put the finishing touches on Barys in overtime, and a few days later he beat Lada in a shootout. Two home victories over Traktor in two days were also very important.

“Neftekhimik” could not cope with the march of the main opponent, having twice lost to another contender for continuing the fight in the Gagarin Cup - “Siberia” and lost to “Ak Bars”. He now trails the Tigers by three points.

The Novosibirsk residents themselves have lost their hopes for the lifting of sanctions. The KHL-FHR Disciplinary Chamber upheld the verdict awarding them four technical defeats for violating the limit on foreign players. However, according to media reports, the club intends to challenge it too. At the same time, the contract with Fedor Gordeev, who became the “extra foreigner,” was first terminated, and then a new one was signed for two years.