KHL: now the hunting part for the playoffs begin

KHL: now the hunting part for the playoffs begin

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We are about to reach the 30 game mark of the KHL season and turn the season to the hunting part for the playoffs.

As we can see so far when we look at the KHL table, SKA and CSKA in the Western Conference have escaped from the other teams and they had done so already in the early stages of the season.

Perhaps it would be a bit of bantering by me to say that both teams were set for the playoffs after ten games, on the other hand, it is more or less true as well that they were.

For SKA it has been a big, big change from the last season when they struggled a long time to get on the right side of the table, the upper part of it.

This season, the team has been like a formula 1 car with an ultra-power engine and the other teams haven’t seen a sight of them since the start, except CSKA Moscow.

Kvartalnov and his crew haven’t so far suffered at all from the Radulov and Zaitsev move to the NHL, which implies that he has more space to create a team than he had in previous seasons.

And, that’s nothing to underestimate at all, as we know that they have been very close to the title in recent years but fell at the last hurdle.

However, CSKA Moscow will remain as a strong part of the title race as they won’t let it go without trying to achieve the Gagarin Cup, over and over again until they get it.

This season is certainly not an exception to that.

If we take a look at the bottom of the Western Conference, there have been a lot of disappointments. Teams like Slovan Bratislava, Medveṧčak Zagreb, and Jokerit Helsinki have a huge struggle to reach the playoff line.

Jokerit is closer, at the moment than the other mentioned teams but they are standing in a very fragile position.

In the East, we cannot find that much bigger a surprise at the top as we find AK Bars Kazan, Avangard Omsk, the defending champions Magnitogorsk skulking behind in third place followed by Salavat Yulayev.

I tossed out some questions to two of the most initiated experts on the KHL and Russian hockey, Patrick Conway from the well-known site Conway’s Russian Hockey and Juha Santaharju from the biggest hockey site in Finland, Jatkoaika.com

I asked why it looks like this and what has been the most positive and negative surprise as well.

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Let us start with Patrick Conway, this is what he says about the top:

-I think CSKA, SKA, etc. simply have better players (and of course, more money) than many other teams. A short answer, maybe, but I think it is the right one!

About the biggest positive and negative surprises he told this:

-My biggest surprise so far must be Kunlun Red Star. I thought they would be ok, thanks mostly to their goalies and defense, but I did not think they would be in a playoff spot.  It will be very interesting to see how they finish! Vityaz, too, is a bit of surprise, although they have started well in the last two seasons (and Aaltonen is very good).

Biggest disappointments? 

-Jokerit would be one, sad to say. I do not know what is wrong there — this is not a bad team in any way, but the wins do not seem to be coming like last year and the year before.  The loss of Kozun (and Moses before him) does not help, but they should be doing better.  I am also very disappointed with Sibir’s season, although the answer there is quite simple — injuries.  I hope they have enough time to turn it around, as their fans deserve it.

Which teams are going to win the west and east conferences?

-And finally, before the season I picked SKA and Avangard to win West and East respectively, and I think I will stick with that. However, do not be startled if it is Ak Bars in the final from the East!  As for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, I think they are very good, and I love Mozyakin, but I do not know if they have enough quality outside of their very best players.  We shall see.  Nobody, I think, will catch SKA in the West — simply too good.

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And this is what Juha Santaharju from Jatkoaika.com told me about the top:

-SKA have played on their own level because the material is simply superior. The best of all time in the KHL. Perhaps the most significant are that they hired Oleg Znarok as head coach for the team. Also, maybe the amount of so-called lost games are surprisingly small, but on the other hand, Znarok’s team’s in the KHL have become known for their high standards of morale and evenness. CSKA Moscow is totally Dimitry Kvartalnov’s team. Alexander Radulov, Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Ljubimov left big holes, but CSKA drafted competent players to fill up the gaps despite that the peak of the team has become a bit weaker. The team have also a huge morale and the squad is big. We’ll surely find CSKA among the top 3 when the regular season is over.

About Jokerit, Slovan and Medveṧčak for example?

-Jokerit’s slight downhill can first of all be blamed on the draft failure of players. The Joker’s pack who has won twice against a top team as CSKA has played irregularly, which has been obvious. The peak of the team has not been good as it has the previous seasons. However, I believe that Jokerit ends up between the places 5-7. Avoiding CSKA or/and SKA would be a great thing. Slovan and Medveṧčak’s level are simply at the level that they should end up below the playoffs. Slovan has though strengthened a bit after the International break, which increases their chances. For Medveṧčak, their dreams to reach the playoffs will just be a dream.

The biggest surprise? Kunlun Red Star!

– The material is not bad at all, and after the first period of playing in another venue front of empty seats (editor’s note: Shanghai), the team has played tight and close-knit, which has made a great impact. Kunlun has all the resources to reach the playoffs.

 Negative Surprise: Sibir Novosibirsk!

– Sibir who has become known for their enormous flexibility and excellent teamwork have won only one of ten games the latest. The cause of the downhill could be blamed on injuries, as after the Salak’s injury and absence. When a vital lock as him disappeared from the back lines, the way downwards began. The season’s first half has gone against all expectations.

Santaharju added also Neftekhimik as a personal disappointment, with which one only can agree totally. Furthermore, he mentioned their peculiar and swift changes of coaches as a valid reason for their lack of success.

To the last Santaharju told who is going to win the west respectively the east:

-The winner of the Western Conference will obviously be SKA St. Petersburg with a new record of the KHL. Not a single team will be even close to them. About the victory of the Eastern Conference it will be a tight story but the reigning champions Magnitka a.k.a Magnitogorsk will leave from a hot spot into the playoffs.

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Both Patrick and Juha gave an excellent view on the situation in the KHL at the moment and it will surely be a very interesting part when the season now turns – as I said at the beginning – into the hunting part for the spots in the knockout stages.

Every game and point from now are more crucial than ever. We can all expect tough and intriguing games among those who are close to the playoff line from behind and from those who are just above standing in a very fragile position.

It will be a time when it is important to keep the heads cool and focus on what is most important on the ice.

We’ll see which teams will succeed with that and which will fail.

Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer.

-Denis Waitley