With the KHL playoffs approaching and the top three teams from each conference having clinched their playoff spots, the KHL writers at Last Word On Sports decided to collaborate for a playoff preview. Writers, Aivis Kalnins and Cirno Avery present: SKA St. Petersburg – KHL Playoff Preview.
SKA St. Petersburg – KHL Playoff Preview:
Coaching — Vyacheslav Bykov is known for rigidly sticking to lines but has kept SKA afloat during the more injury-riddled stretches. Goalie-blaming aside, Bykov has kept a system of strong counter-attacking, leaning heavily on his top lines. The big negative is the fact the special teams seldom change, ever. Despite the penalty kill being very weak and 40 games for Dinar Khafizullin to remark in the post game interview (Jan14/15): “We need to perform better on defense.”
Defense — Two words to sum up SKA: “glass cannon”. Despite the strong offense, the defense is a little lacking. It’s loaded with offensive defensemen including Anton Belov, Andrei Kuteikin and Dmitri Kalinin; big name Olympic stars who are a little weak on the defensive components. For an aging third pairing, Kuteikin and Kalinin combining for 25 points is rather a neat trick. It’s also worth keeping an eye on draft eligible Dmitri Yudin, a 19-year-old whose time on ice statistic has been increasing since the World Juniors and sits with six points despite playing bottom pairing minutes.
Offense: Kovalchuk fell out of the sniper contest rather early, being replaced by 24-year-old breakout star Artemi Panarin. SKA is teaming with offense up and down its line-up. There’s a top line of Kovalchuk and new center Jimmie Ericsson, who are combining to keep Kovalchuk in the top ten for points. The second line consists of Artemi Panarin, Vadim Shipachov, and Evgenii Dadonov — all of whom are sitting in the KHL’s leaderboard for most assists, being threats on both the powerplay and when at even-strength. If there is a line teams need to focus on, it’s them. The third line, nicknamed the “Foreign Line”, has Tony Mortensson, who is fifth in SKA’s all time scoring list, and Patrick Thoresen, who sits 7th along with Roman Cervenka. The foreign line provides an extra punch for SKA, as well as doubling as a shut-down line.
Goaltending: With a revolving door of goaltenders, SKA finally have finally settled on Mikko Koskinen as its starting goalie, with World Junior Championship silver-medalist Igor Shestyorkin as back-up. Having the highest save percentage in the league, Koskinen has provided a backbone since rediscovering his game after leaving Sibir, and has managed to steal several games for SKA. However, with the team’s third choice, Shestyorkin, things are a little trickier. While the 19-year-old has held his own in the KHL, as Alexander Pashkov argued to Allhockey.ru (Jan16/15): “To withstand the stress and work at a consistently high level will be difficult. It’s important to understand [when to stop] and when to not give up the slack.” This of course, is regarding the health status of Ilya Ezhov, who is yet to play a game since being traded to SKA and has had to climb above a soaring Koskinen to see any action.
Conclusion: The team has above average goaltending, glass-cannon defense, and extreme firepower. Keep an eye on Koskinen, Panarin and of course, captain Ilya Kovalchuk.
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Main Photo by Yury Kuzmin/KHL Photo Agency via Getty Images