The KHL packed their first round of the playoffs into the bare minimum of games, so they are nearly done and the second round starts soon. The SHL finished their regular season yesterday, and we know the first round matchups there. By the end of April, everyone is Europe will be finished league play, so it all goes by fast.
Frölunda strung together a lot of wins in their run up to the end of the season and finished in third place, with Carl Grundström joining in with a bit of a scoring streak of his own. He finished the regular season with 17 goals and seven assists for 24 points in 35 games. His season was shortened by his late start coming from Toronto, and a knee injury in December, and yet he finished second on his team in goals scored. Not points, obviously, he’s not an assist man.
Look at that picture, then look up at the one from the WJC. This is his office, and this is where he gets most of his goals.
Frölunda get a bye to the second round of the playoffs. In Sweden, finishing in the top six gives you something more valuable than just home ice. So Grundström won’t see any more action until next week. They play their first game against Malmö on Monday, March 19. The latest the final round can go is the end of April.
First the good news: Yegor Korshkov and Lokomotiv swept their first round playoff matchup and are healthy-looking and ready for the next round.
Now the bad news: They play SKA in the next round.
To say the KHL is unbalanced is an understatement. It has been like this for a long time, and the KHL models for you the world you think you want when you bemoan the salary cap and Bettman’s parity. It seems true that to be a fan of one of the two or three wealthy teams stacked to the rafters with talent would be a lot of fun. And I’m sure it is. For a while. But eventually you either see beneath the gloss and recognize that the entire concept of competitive sport has been destroyed, or you join in with a sense of entitlement and demand your team always win.
In the KHL West conference, three quarterfinals were sweeps, and the fourth was a 4-1 victory by Jokerit who play CSKA in their semifinal. That semi might be competitive, and Jokerit, who have no Russian players at all, may knock out CSKA, the second richest and most powerful team. That’s as close as you get to an upset.
Lokomotiv is the little engine that can’t. The chances of them beating SKA are tiny.
SKA boasts Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nikita Gusev (possibly the best player in the KHL), the famous former Vegas Golden Knight, Vadim Shipachyov and Igor Shestyorkin (an excellent goalie prospect) all augmented by a long list of KHL stars you’ve never heard of, but they sit guys out of games who are better than the top lines on some other teams.
In the first round, Lokomotiv made hay off of their first line, and Korshkov’s entire second/third line went pointless. The team is low-scoring at the best of times, and more so in the playoffs, and they also run all their offence through their top pair defenders of Jakub Nakladal and Staffan Kronwall. If they aren’t on the ice, no goals happen, so don’t take those zeros as too much of a knock against the players. Korshkov doesn’t get top unit power play time, either, which is where Lokomotiv are lethal.
Korshkov looked good, strong, deceptively fast for such a tall guy, excellent with the puck, getting better without it. I think he’s ready for a new challenge, but I don’t know what the schedule for that will be.
There is one more stop on the Euro Hockey tour this spring, at the end of April, and then the World Championships begins in early May. Russia may choose to send their U25 team to those events, so if that’s the case, Korshkov will be booked up until nearly the end of May.
If you want a streaky scorer, Pierre Engvall is your man. He has been getting a little extra ice time lately, playing higher up the lineup on HV71, and he made the most of a well-timed streak to add some points. He was in on four goals of a recent 7-1 blowout win.
He finished the season with seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points in 31 games in his injury shortened season. He very much made the most of his opportunity this year, and he’s not done yet.
HV71, the defending champions, finished in eight place and play a best of three series against Linköping beginning tomorrow to get into the second round of the playoffs.
HPK played their last regular season game yesterday and finished 11th, out of the playoffs. Jesper Lindgren is still listed as injured, so he finished the season with eight points in 43 games.
This season was a tough ask for Lindgren. He’s only 20 years old, and he went to a new team in a different country where he was one of only two non-Finns on the team. He played top pairing minutes for much of the first part of the season on a team with a lot of raw, young talent. The team got outshot a lot, and while he didn’t help with that, I’m not sure the rookie is who you should expect to save you from your own inability to drive play.
It will be much more interesting to see where he goes next. The Leafs have his rights until the summer of 2019.
Dynamo St. Petersburgh of the VHL start the next round of the playoffs tomorrw.
The MHL (junior league) playoffs have just started and Vladimir Bobylyov has played one game with that his team lost 3-0.
Vladislav Kara, who spent the bulk of his season in the VHL, has also moved back to junior for the playoffs. His team got roasted in their opening game 9-1, so here’s hoping things improve.
Persons of Interest
Igor Ozhiganov: CSKA rolled to a 4-0 victory in their first round of the playoffs. Ozhiganov played third pair minutes in three of the games, and had no points. They play Jokerit in the next round, and as CSKA will need goals against a team capable of massive offence, I won’t be surprised if they go with the scoring defenders ahead of a player like Ozhiganov.