Magintogorsk, Dynamo lead KHL through October


We're a week away from the second International Break of the European Hockey season (the first technically occurs in preseason), so it's a good time to catch up on what's been happening in league play.  The European Goliath known as the Kontinental Hockey League has been in full throttle right from the second week of September, and every team will have hit the 20 game plateau by the time the league goes on hiatus for the various international tournaments (Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic will compete in the Karjala Cup from Nov 11-14, for example).  In all, 38% of the league's schedule is already completed, so we're getting a good idea of what the teams are capable of.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk are the early frontrunners in the league, scoring at a high pace (3.71 G/G), without sacrificing a lot on defense (2.67 GAA).   It's this balance that separates them from the other top teams to date:  UHC Dynamo Moscow leads the Western Conference by stingy defense and top end goaltending (1.95 GAA, while goaltender Michael Garnett sports a .938 SV%); perennial threat Salavat Yulaev Ufa has top scorers Alexander Radulov and Patrick Thoreson, but have a 3.05 GAA.  Metallurg has been as tough on the road as they've been at home, getting 22 out of 27 possible points on the road while picking up 27 of 36 points at home.  Their results to date are a testament to depth as much as anything:  while former NHL blueliner Janne Niskala anchors their PP and leads the team with 4 PPGs, he still only ranks 3rd in ice time amongst defenseman.  Future Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov is the team's 3rd line centre, behind Alexei Kaigrodov and Petri Kontiola.  Enver Lisin, signed after failing to make the Atlanta Thrashers, has yet to make a significant impact, skating on the team's second line.  Other familiar names include former Anaheim Mighty Ducks forward Stanislav Chistov (17 points and +10 despite being 9th in forwards in ice time), blueliner Lasse Kukkonen (Niskala's partner on the second pair), while Tomas Rolinek, the Czech Republic's captain for their 2010 World Champion team, is one of the team's top wingers.

At the other end of the scale is the disastrous Vityaz Chekhov, the greater Moscow area team captained by the notorious Chris Simon.  The team boasts the top 4 players in terms of PIMs in the KHL, all former North American pugilists.  Brandon Sugden, who has only suited up for 3 games this year, still has managed to put up 94 PIMs to rank 3rd in the league, behind Simon (96 in 16 games) and Darcy Verot (110 in 8 GP).  Sugden's KHL career has so far consisted of 13 total games, in which he has amassed 216 PIMs, or over 16.6 PIMs per game.  I honestly don't know what they're paying him for.  Nevertheless, the locals love their team:  the rink only has a listed 3300 seats, but with standing room area the team has a recorded 97.6% capacity for the year.  It is, by far, the smallest rink in the league, however, so take that with a few grains of salt.  The fans may like the fights, but a whopping 2 points in 9 home games has to eventually take it's toll on the local enthusiasm.   

Perhaps the most schizophrenic team in the KHL are Amur Khaborovsk, though there's likely a very logical reason for that.  This is the team that fired their head coach five games into the year, but the team got their act together and started getting some wins...  at home.  In October, with Anatoli Yemelin behind the bench, they secured a very strong 19 out of 24 possible points.  Yet on the road, the team had gone nine games without a single point to show for it:  nine consecutive regulation losses.  That finally changed yesterday, as they defeated one of the top teams in the Western Conference, Severstal Cheroporvets, 4-2 despite being outshot 44-27.  Being the lone team from Russia's Far East probably helps explain the massive discrepancy between home and road record, but it's something they'll have to fix in a hurry, as they've played 13 of their first 23 games at home, and are a few games back of a playoff spot. 

The most surprising team so far has to be the expansion HC Yugra, a team who competed in the second tier Russian Major League last year.  Yugra is doing it through defense, and definitely not managerial tact.  They sit solidly in a playoff position despite their top scoring forward, Igor Skorokhodov, only having 13 points through 20 games.  The team did get a big boost by acquiring promising winger Kirill Petrov, who had been buried down Ak Bars Kazan's depth chart.  Petrov quickly responded with 10 points in 13 games for Yugra, helping the team to move ahead of Kazan in the standings. 

Finally, the KHL can't go without some mention of SKA St. Petersburg so far this year.  They've spent much of the first two months closer to the bottom of the Western Conference than the top, fired their head coach (a total of eight teams have switched coaches in the KHL, or a third of the league), and recently signed another former NHLer in Evgeny ArtyukhinEvgeni Nabokov has been a bust so far:  a 3.38 GAA is that high due to a shoddy .888 SV%.  But it doesn't help that the team seems to be underutilizing Denis Grebeshkov on defense, who is averaging about 21:00 a night despite having 8 points and a +10 rating.  The team has, for some reason, used Johan Fransson more since he came over after failing to make the Los Angeles Kings out of training camp.  Matthias Wienhandl is leading the team in scoring, with Maxim Afinogenov and Alexei Yashin 4th and 5th respectively. The team is moving up in the standings, currently sitting in 5th in the Conference (which is probably the weaker of the two conferences), but there's no doubt it's been a disappointing ride so far.  The team has been the top road draw in the West so far, so they're at least making the other owners happy. 

For full data, I've got a spreadsheet up on Google Docs here for reference.  I'm new to Google Docs, so bear with it.  All data was pulled from the KHL website's game reports, and the "First Goals" means first professional goals, be it at one of the top 7 European leagues, or in the NHL and AHL.  Anything below that level is ignored.

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