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European report: No one said it would always be easy

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Playoffs test you, and not everyone passes the first time. See some goals and some wins and read about some as well as Russian rumours.

2015 NHL Draft - Portraits
Jesper Lindgren had a great week.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Yegor Korshkov

Last week we saw Yegor Korshkov and Lokomotiv stage an upset over Moscow CSKA. The conference final is their next challenge and they face a bigger, tougher, more stacked team than has perhaps been ever put on the ice not wearing Team Canada colours at an Olympics.

SKA St. Petersburg.

In the KHL regular season this year, the greatest player to ever play the game in Russia, Sergei Mozyakin, led the league in points. He plays for last year’s champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

After him, numbers two through five on the scoring list are:

  • Ilya Kovalchuk
  • Vadim Shipachyov
  • Nikita Gusev
  • Evgeny Dadanov

They all play for SKA. Their next highest points scoring forward is a man you might know: Pavel Datsyuk.

In the first game on Thursday, Lokomotiv had the game on an early lead, they just had to keep the lead, and okay, that’s a lot of scoring talent to hold off. The final score was 5-4 for SKA in overtime, with the winning goal scored by a man Lokomotiv traded early in the year, Patrik Hersley.

Korshkov had four shots on goal but no points.

The next game was Saturday, and it went less well. It’s obvious that Korshkov and his young linemates simply do not react fast enough in the offensive zone against competition this tough. They get there, they get stuck on the boards, and they lack the sense of urgency required to move the puck quickly in such shark-infested waters. Korshkov drew a boarding penalty, which is a painful way to make that weakness pay off, but that’s all they got out of their time on the ice.

The final score was 4-1 and SKA is up two games to none. The next game is Monday, and if Lokomotiv don’t win it, they have no chance in this series.

Carl Grundström

Frölunda won the first game of their first round playoff series against Skellefteå, and then the wheels fell of in dramatic fashion.

Sean Bergenheim was suspended for the next three games, and Frölunda lost all of them. Heading into Saturday’s game, they were facing elimination against a team that seems designed to beat them. It essentially was.

Skellefteå were last year’s finalists who lost to Frölunda in a very hard-fought series. They are the team that can stop Frölunda’s transition game cold, can clog up the neutral zone, and have the kind of goaltending that they can ride to a tight victory if they need to.

In the three losses, Frölunda scored only three goals. That won’t do it. While everyone on Frölunda seems stymied at the net, Carl Grundström has been particularly frustrated. He led the team with nine shots on goal in the and had zero points after the first four games.

Perhaps because of his streak of shooting blanks—he’s had some great chances too—his icetime has slipped to around third line numbers on average.

In Saturday’s game, Frölunda put all their chips down on a big gamble. Most teams facing elimination don’t play the 16-year-old defender, no matter how good he is.

Okay, that worked. They decided to keep scoring, and the goal drought ended for Grundström in a big way as he scored the next one to make it 2-0. He notched an assist on the one after that for 3-0.

The final score was 4-1, and that gave them life to fight another day, but climbing out of the hole they’ve dug won’t be easy.

The highlights of the game are here, and you can see Grundström (#3 in green) in all his HD glory. He doesn’t look really great on the goal against, and there was some coaching instruction after about the role of F3 on the backcheck, and no, seriously, that’s what it was about. He does, however, dump a player in the camera bay, which was fun.

The next game, the next must-win game, is Monday.

Nikolai Chebykin

On Tuesday, Nikolai Chebykin had two assists in his VHL playoff game, and his team moved on to the semifinals. The team is on break until that round begins.

Chebykin has three goals and five assists in eight games for a nice even point per game so far in the playoffs. This is enough for 23rd amongst forwards in playoff scoring, and most of those in front of him have played a lot more games.

Elite Prospects’ data shows that for U24 players in the VHL, Dynamo Balashikha has the top five players by points per game in the playoffs. Chebykin is fourth. His team is young, and he’s succeeding on it, which is all you can ask for. I was very concerned that his poor regular season play in the VHL showed him struggling to advance, but this playoffs is proving he can compete at this level on a good team.

Pierre Engvall

Pierre Engvall has seemed to be a very streaky scorer this year. He opened the season with a lot of points and then went cold, but he’s gotten hot again at exactly the right time: the games to decide promotion to the SHL.

Mora IK are playing their old Allsvenskan rival Leksands IF in a best of seven series, and they are tied at one win each. Whoever wins this series plays in the SHL next year. The loser goes to the Allsvenskan.

Jesper Lindgren

Last week we saw Jesper Lindgren, who has dropped down to the J20 team, move through to the quaterfinals. This week his team, MODO, took Timrå IK out in two straight games to move through to the semifinals.

Timrå had stacked their junior team with a top line of Jens Lööke, Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlén—all members of the Swedish WJC team this year and regular members of the Allsvenskan team like Lindgren is.

In the first game Lindgren had two assists and the game winning goal on the power play, while in the second, he let others carry the day.

They get to relax a little before the next round which begins on May 1.


Persons of Interest

This past week, Chris Johnston said that the Leafs were interested in Vadim Shipachyov and Evgeny Dadonov. You’ll see their names above as two of SKA’s top scorers this year.

If the Leafs have a scout in Russia watching the Lokomotiv - SKA series, we should not be surprised, and other credible reports say that the Vegas Golden Knights are interested in the two pending free agents as well as other teams.

I will not be surprised if the Leafs find more in the KHL to sign than just Miro Aaltonen, but is there a good fit with Shipachyov and Dadonov?

Shipachyov, the centre, just turned 30, and he has played his whole career in the KHL, most of it with SKA. His 26 goals and 76 points this year were a career high, which isn’t usual at his age. We should ask why. Tyler Bozak provides a clue.

While SKA have been a consistently good team, unlike the Leafs during Bozak’s career, this year they are absolutely stacked with talent, and can have the best line on the ice all the time. That is a recipe for opening up scoring opportunities for good forwards, and even when you’re not young anymore, you can still capitalize on it. Assuming those numbers are a bit puffed up is likely wise.

Dadonov, the left-shooting winger, just turned 28 (they have the same birthdate, just two years apart) and he has some NHL experience. He spent two years in the Florida Panthers organization, was traded to Carolina and then went home the next year for the lockout and never came back. He was only 20 when he first came over to play in the NHL/AHL.

Back in Russia, he played first for Donbass and then SKA and has always been a good scoring player, but his 30 goals and 66 points this year are also career highs. More evidence that SKA runs on helium.

I’ve seen both players on SKA and on the Russian national team, and they are both good offensive forwards. I like Dadonov a little more, and that is at least in part because of his age.

Neither of these players need to be great defensive forwards or to play a heavy game to get the puck. They have the puck a lot and they know how to score.

They will get a lot of attention, and the Alex Radulov experiment worked so well for Montréal that they will command bigger money and/or term up-front than he settled for.

Cost and age make them both not quite wrong for the Leafs, but edge cases, where the deal would need to be great to make it worth it. The idea that the Leafs should trade their 31-year-old centre and soon to be 28-year-old winger and then sign these two guys seems like an odd way to improve the team unless the contract amount makes it work.

If I were Vegas, I’d sign them both, and I think the Leafs should take a pass.