Decided to pay some tribute to Dan Ellis' tweeting career in the title. The free spending SKA St. Petersburg team fell in their home opener to Dinamo Riga, who have earned the title of being my favourite KHL team as I'm a huge fan of Latvian hockey (at SB Nation, we're encouraged to be fans, so deal with it). The game was a back and forth affair, with SKA building an early 2-0 lead that was wiped out, and Riga coming back to take the lead 4-3 before SKA tied it with just 13 seconds to play to force OT. The game was won on an overtime PP goal by Alexanders Nizivijs, with an assist from the greatest Latvian hockey player of all time, Sandis Ozolins (note the proper Latvian spelling).
The game marked the KHL debuts of several prominent offseason signings by SKA, most notably goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, forward Maxim Afinogenov, and defenseman Denis Grebeshkov. On the goals allowed, Nabokov seemed surprised by the speed of the play, as the play opened up with bouncing pucks and one-timers. Allowing 5 goals on 33 shots is not an ideal debut for a $6m goaltender, but only one of the goals seemed to be on Nabokov primarily, a mini-break goal by Mikelis Redlihs where the shooter beat Nabokov fivehole. Grebeshkov managed to get an assist on the late equalizer and finished +2, while Afinogenov managed an assist as well. The offensive star for the high powered CKA team was the underrated Swedish forward Mattias Weinhandl, who scored twice, once on the PP as well as the late goal to force overtime. Former NHLer Petr Cajanek opened the scoring for SKA, with assists from Russian national team fixture Maxim Sushinsky and aging star Alexei Yashin.
Riga is an interesting collection of Latvian national team members and North American minor leaguers. With former NHL goaltender Mikael Tellqvist injured, Chris Holt, who had a cup of coffee for the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues a few years back, got the start and the win. Riga's top forwards are Janis Sprukts, Tomas Surovy, Mark Hartigan, OT hero Nizivijs, Girts Ankipans and Martins Karsums. Brock Trotter, who signed with Riga after a stellar season with the Hamilton Bulldogs (and failing to come to terms on a new deal with the Montreal Canadiens), played only 10:36 (9th amongst forwards) and had a minor penalty. The 38 year old Ozolins played a team high 27:23 and anchors an all Latvian defence corps. Sprukts, a fixture on the Latvian national team, had a goal and an assist, as did Nizvijs. Youngster Roberts Bukarts, who was captain and top player for Latvia's U20 team (and my favourite player at the 2010 World Juniors), got an assist in limited ice time. I'm confident Bukarts will be on the Latvian national team in a couple of years.
Other KHL action saw the strong Salavat Yulaev Ufa team beat Traktor Chelyabinsk 7-2, Sibor Novosbirsk win 5-2 over Amur Khabarovsk (rematch will probably be done by the time you read this), Metallurg Magnitogorsk beat Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg 2-0, Spartak Moscow beat CSKA Moscow 5-1 in Dominik Hasek's KHL debut, and Torpedo Nizhniy-Novgorod beat Dinamo Minsk 3-1. This all follows up on Wednesday's Opening Cup result, where UHC Dynamo beat the defending champs, Ak Bars Kazan, 3-1.
For more on the SKA/Riga game, go to Fear the Fin's Nabokov-centric recap. After the jump, highlights from the SKA/Riga game, where you can judge for yourself on Nabokov's KHL debut.