Monday, 4 October 2010

No International Peace

Today was the first day of the KHL-NHL agreement that saw two NHL teams travel to Russia to compete against KHL teams. While it was just the early afternoon here, the final wraps were being put on the game between the Carolina Hurricanes and SKA St. Petersburg. While the agreement between the two leagues appears to moving along quite amicably, the game between these two teams was anything but amicable. We'll take a look at the not-so-friendly game between these two clubs.

SKA St. Petersburg has already played 11 KHL games this season, so they are finding their mark in the Russian league. They boast a number of former NHL players in Evgeni Nabokov, Denis Grebeshkov, Vitaly Vishnevsky, Andrei Zyuzin, Mattias Weinhandl, Maxim Afinogenov, Alexei Yashin, Petr Cajanek, and Sergei Brylin. While they aren't everyday NHL superstars, all nine men were very serviceable NHL regulars. The only problem? SKA St. Petersburg has stumbled out of the gate, posting a 6-3-2 record to sit fourth in the Western Conference and eighth overall. With the Hurricanes coming to town, St. Petersburg was looking to make a statement against the NHL club.

Carolina will close out their preseason schedule with this game in Russia, and will open the regular season against the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, Finland on October 7. It appears that the Hurricanes have their roster set, but Sergei Samsonov did not make the trip overseas. Losing the Russian speedster doesn't help the Hurricanes, but they are hoping their young talent may bolster the roster and make up for the loss of Samsonov.

From the opening faceoff, this game had a very nasty edge to it, and that theme would continue throughout the night as SKA and Carolina dropped the mitts on a few occasions. While I was surprised with what I saw in the highlights, it appeared that some of the Russian players were throwing some questionable, low hits, and this prompted Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice to end a few of his stars' nights early.

Konstatin Panov opened the scoring just 1:51 in when his pass deflected off Joni Pitkanen's skate and beat Hurricanes' goalie Cam Ward through the five-hole. SKA increased the lead to 2-0 at 19:54 when Maxim Rybin deflected a shot from Maxim Afinogenov past Ward. It looked as though he may have deflected the shot with his skate, but there's no instant replay in the KHL, and the referee's decision stood. SKA was out in front after 20 minutes by a 2-0 score.

The second period saw Tuomo Ruutu put the NHL club on the board. Just 1:50, Ruutu chipped home a rebound past Evgeni Nabokov, and St. Petersburg's lead was down to 2-1. 92 seconds later, Patrick Dwyer shoveled home a rebound past Nabokov, and the Hurricanes had tied the game 2-2 at the 3:22 mark.

Cam Ward would be pulled in favor of Justin Peters near the 6:30 mark so that the youngster could get some playing time, and St. Petersburg would capitalize. Defenceman Jamie McBain turned the puck over at his blueline to Alexei Yashin for a breakaway, and the former NHL sniper got Peters out of position before firing the puck home for a 3-2 lead at 6:53.

The Hurricanes would respond before the break, though. On the powerplay, Joni Pitkanen fired a low, hard pass to Jeff Skinner in front of Nabokov, and the youngster made a nice play by kicking the puck from his skate to his stick before firing it between Nabokov and the post on the stick-side to make it a 3-3 game with 5:08 to play in the period.

"This guy is a great player," Maurice said of Skinner to Paul Branecky. "I love watching this guy play. I would buy tickets to come see him play, and he’s 18. I think this guy is going to be a great player for us for a long time."

Just 1:14 into the third period, Tuomo Ruutu was sent to the penalty box for tripping, and St. Petersburg went to work on the powerplay. It didn't take them long as SKA captain Maxim Shushinskiy slammed home a rebound past Peters from the doorstep at 1:47, and SKA was back on top by a 4-3 score. And Shushinskiy wasn't done there. Less than five minutes after his powerplay goal, he found some open ice on a backdoor pass from Alexei Yashin, and tipped the puck past a helpless Peters to make the score 5-3 at the 6:35 mark while playing four-on-four.

While the score would remain the same through to the final buzzer, it was clear that there was a difference in the number of penalties being handed out by the KHL referee. I'm not sure if the KHL allows low-bridge hits, but it seemed as though both Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner had their lower bodies targeted by the SKA players.

After a questionable hit by Alexei Petrov on Eric Staal, several Hurricanes came to the captain's defence. Tim Gleason paired off with Petrov, but the Russia player wanted nothing to do with fighting. However, after wrestling with Petrov for a minute, the gloves came off and Gleason pounded Petrov to the ice. Both received fighting majors and game misconducts, but there was nothing for the dangerous low hit thrown by Petrov.

"I liked it a lot," Maurice told Dan Rosen in regards to Gleason's protection of Staal. "You can argue if you like fighting or not, but when you've got guys coming awful close to players' knees with no repercussions, if you don't sort it out that way then there is going to be a lot of stick work and a lot of garbage."

Overall, it wasn't the prettiest game to watch, but there were some pretty impressive displays of talent. Alexei Yashin had a particularly strong game in the offensive zone, and Jeff Skinner looks to be the real deal for the Hurricanes. Both were named as Player of the Game for their respective team, and I concur with those honours as both played extremely well.

Phoenix and Dinamo Riga will battle on Wednesday before the Coyotes take on the Boston Bruins to open their season in Prague, Czech Republic. HBIC will have more chatter on that NHL vs. KHL game coming up this week!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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