The KHL playoffs began on Tuesday with the West Conference games, which means Lokomotiv was up first. The KHL alternates East and West, with four games going in each conference in the first round. Vladimir Tkatchyov is in action in the East conference for Ak Bars, but there is no sign of Nikolai Chebykin on Dynamo Moscow.
So far, there are few surprises. The East teams, who are playing their third games today, have three series at 2-0 with only the fourth and fifth placed teams splitting theirs. Ak Bars is facing their rival Salavat Yulaev, and both games have been very close, as expected with two low-scoring teams with good goalies. Ak Bars took them both, however, and Tkachyov garnered one assist so far.
The West is even more unbalanced, with few close games and three series sitting at 3 games to 0.
In Lokomotiv’s first playoff game, they came out a little nervous. They are up against Dinamo Minsk (not to by confused with Dynamo Moscow) and Ben Scrivens. Scrivens has been a very solid net-minder for Minsk all season, and he was on his game in the opener. The kid line of Yegor Korshkov, Alexander Polunin and Pavel Kravkovsky, the same line that dominated the junior playoffs last year, had a lot of jump early. They got the first goal.
Their success seemed to spur on the top line on the team and Petri Kontiola added an insurance goal that became the eventual winner in a 2-1 game.
The second game was a very different story. Scrivens was not on, and Lokomotiv rolled over Minsk for a final score of 7-2. The Korshkov line managed no points in that one somehow, although they had good ice time and were shooting the puck a lot.
In the third game on Saturday, the Lokomotiv crew left Minsk baffled defensively, like rubes seeing the three-card Monte for the first time. They scored twice from cross-crease passes, and then got the third off a passing play that ended in a clean point shot. That was just the first period. Scrivens had no chance on any of these. The bloodletting continued, and the score ended up 5-1, largely because in the last minute of play Scrivens was still flinging himself across the crease to save the gimmes his team was handing to the opposition.
Korshkov and his boys had one goal:
The Minsk coach was less than impressed with his team, rightly so—the fans streamed out of the arena long before it was over.
The reward for wining this series, which Lokomotiv certainly will, is a meeting with CSKA Moscow in the next round. That will be a tough one.
Frölunda are drifting through the last part of the regular season in a haze of indifferent play, bad goaltending and losses. They have wholly conceded first place, and they are in danger of dropping below second permanently with only a few games left to play.
They played three games this week, scored one goal in each of the first two and finally woke up for the third. Just. They wont it 5-4 in overtime, and Grundström got another assist on an early goal, bring his season total right now to 12 goals and five assists. The highlight real shows Grundström (#3 in green) jousting in front of the goalie ahead of Casey Wellman’s goal.
Grundström is not a game decider. He plays exactly the same all of the time, and sometimes he scores, sometimes he doesn’t. He’s cold lately, but he never stops working, forechecking and driving the net.
The team is holding on to second place with five more games to play.
Pierre Engvall and Jesper Lindgren
Mora IK played three games this week, and there are only three more days of action in the regular season, so they are almost done, and have finished first in the league with a spot in the playoffs to attempt to get into a promotion position. They’ve accomplished their main task.
Pierre Engvall played on the third unit in all three games, and scored one goal, the fifth in a 5-1 win. To say he’s gone cold is an understatement, and one late game goal in a blowout isn’t going to get him back up the lineup.
The more interesting thing about Mora this week was the rumour that the coach is heading for the AHL. Said coach is Jeremy Colliton, a big defensive centre from Alberta. He was signed by the New York Islanders as a free agent out of junior hockey and he played four seasons in the AHL getting a few sips of coffee in the NHL. Then he played a year in Sweden in the SHL. He went back to the Islanders, got a few more unimpressive games, and then played two very good years in the AHL, becoming captain. He missed the lockout year due to injury.
Colliton then went back to Sweden in 2013 and became a coach in a very unusual way. He was signed by Mora IK in the Allsvenskan at the time, so he wasn’t trying to get a job in the top league anymore. They named him captain, but he only played three games, and when the coach was fired mid-season, Colliton stepped out of his skates and got behind the bench. He’s been the head coach ever since. He has been constantly rumoured to be about to move to an SHL team, and now there is a claim that the AHL is interested. It is said he will stay with Mora if they advance to the SHL.
Colliton is only 32, and is the subject of glowing reports about his coaching. And Mora are a team outperforming their roster—they have no star player prospects, rather they have six players in the top 25 in scoring, including Engvall. Colliton is a name to remember.
Jesper Lindgren is back on the first unit with his regular partner again, and MODO are playing out their disaster of a first season in the Allsvenskan. The complex playoff structure gives them a technical chance at advancement, but it’s so faint as to be meaningless. They need to play out the season and worry about next year.
And now for the search. Where is he? Not in the KHL playoffs, I know that much.
I found him playing 12 minutes in a VHL game on February 19th where he had one shot on goal. He carried on there into the playoffs which just began and had one goal (to make it 5-2 for his team) in their first game on Saturday.
This is where he belongs. And in hindsight is perhaps where he should have been for most of the season. If he is too souped up for junior but not KHL ready, then this is the other option. So far, he’s been unimpressive at this level, and has been outplayed by other young players. A serious stint of regular games will decide if he can transition to senior hockey or not. The only other option for him is to leave Russia to find a league at his level. That is not going to be the AHL, if the VHL is too hard, it should be said.
Persons of Interest
Vladimir Tkachyov had one assist in the two games finished so far. Their third goes this morning.
Kristian Vesalainen is back to bench warming with Frölunda looking to hold their place in the standings. If he doesn’t get playoff minutes, he may find himself slipping in the draft rankings.
Lias Andersson had a goal and three assists in HV71’s most recent game, so the highlight reel there is good to get a look at him. #23 in dark.