After a short break Salavat Yulaev continued the regular season with 2 home games against the best teams of Western Conference - SKA Saint-Petersburg and CSKA Moscow. These two games unexpectedly became of extra importance. Firstly in 12 years, Ufa club risks not to make it to play-offs. In order to be in the last 8, the team needs to score as many points. All of this stuff multiplied by the fact that the half of the leaders are injured makes it a heavy challenge for Salavat Yulaev.
SKA Saint-Petersburg is considered as one of the best teams in KHL with the coach, Oleg Znarok, who is also the coach of Team Russia, the wizard Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Vadim Shipachyov, Sergei Shirokov, Nikita Gusev and a young goalkeeper Igor Shestyorkin. SKA has the best offence in the League scoring 237 goals and one of the best defenses (106 goals conceded). So, Salavat Yulaev wasn't lucky to play SKA in its life-saving game. In spite all of it, Saint-Petersburg has some problem issues with the roster. The defenders Andrei Zubarev (used to play in Ufa) and Patrick Hersley, the forwards Steve Moses, Sergei Plotnikov and Viktor Tikhonov are injured.
But we all know that who has more troubles with roster, don't we? Linus Omark, Teemu Hartikainen, Igor Makarov, Sergei Soin, Evgeny Bodrov and Tomas Mertl, the very best, essential players of the team are injured. That's why the coach, Igor Zakharkin has to rotate the roster each game. Believe it or not, but Andrei Gavrilov was chosen the 1st goalie of the game. After 6 games in which Niklas Svedberg conceded 24 (!) goals, the coach gave him a rest. It appeared, not a long one. I'll get back to it later.
Maksim Goncharov and Zakhar Arzamastsev made it the 1st defense pair, the 1st line was Enver Lisin - Dmitry Makarov - Maksim Mayorov. It's a regular combination of these players, but usually they are the 2nd line. Kirill Kaprizov and Mikhail Vorobyov were in one line, as they used to be at WorldJuniors. Stepan Khripunov helped them from the left. Pretty young shift, all of them are not older than 20 years. Aleksander Loginov and Sami Lepisto backed them up as usual. It's important to mention that the roster of the 4th line was a good discovery by Zakharkin. 2 quick wingers (Aleksandr Nesterov and Anton Lazarev) with a huge centreforward Evgeny Korotkov backed up by Konstantin Korneyev and Denis Kulyash were pretty good at offense.
Right from the start Salavat showed that they were primed for victory. 12 SOG against 9 in the 1st period. During the 1st intermission we found out that Andrei Gavrilov got injured and he played the last 5 minutes with awful pain in the leg. There is sure something wrong with Salavat's fate regarding injuries. Pretty fast and mutually attacking game was changed by SKA's heavy rain of shots in the 2nd period. As a result the 2nd ends with 0:2 in favour of SKA. At the beginning of the 3rd period Enver Lisin brings the hope to fans' hearts scoring really a great goal.
The hopes were not to come true as Vadim Shipachyov scores his 3rd in the game. Although Salavat had many chances, they couldn't score any. The 8th consecutive loss - 1:3. As a result of the game Andrei Gavrilov made it to the injured list. Despite the loss to the best team in the League, the fans and the experts saw some positive movement in the team's play. Was it the rise of Salavat?
The next opponent was CSKA Moscow, another "army" squad which counts on the Gagarin Cup. The team doesn't have many "stars" this season after Aleksandr Radulov went to Montreal Canadiens, but still is great. The roster is well-combinated with players which do their work properly. In the current squad we can call only Valery Nichushkin who has just got back from Dallas Stars and Ivan Telegin stars of the team. Both of them play in one line by the way.
If the game vs SKA rose hopes in Salavat's fans' hearts, Aleksandr Popov and Vladimir Zharkov let them down right in the beginning. Dmitry Makarov made it 1:2 in a couple of minutes.
The rest of the game showed that Salavat Yulaev is not ready for such strong sharks as CSKA. Greg Scott, Nichushkin and Telegin consecutively made it 1:5. So, the 9th loss in a row and the 8th place in standings. Now the team goes for a break in the regular season. Salavat needs to win both of the rest games vs Ak Bars and Lada to make it to play-offs. The team still has chances and we hope that the leaders will recover from injuries to take part in the most important games of the season.