Golden Knights could get playoff boost from KHL scoring leader Gusev

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The Vegas Golden Knights looked a little overwhelmed by the sheer talent of the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If only they had, say, the leading scorer from the KHL this season …

TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Nikita Gusev’s agent J.P. Barry confirmed that the 26-year-old forward has been released from his contract from St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL. Dreger reports that this opens up Gusev to sign a one-year entry-level contract with the Golden Knights for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Gusev is expected to join the Golden Knights by this weekend.

Barring a change-up that would put Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann rushing to join the Penguins to shame, one would think that this weekend would exclude Game 2 on Friday night (10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN; Live stream), but who knows about Game 3 on Sunday (10 p.m. ET on NBCSN; Live stream)?

Overall, it’s difficult to tell if Gusev can get into the mix by Round 1 in general … but we’ll see.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

On one hand, it’s easy to see why people would be excited about this development.

Gusev topped all KHL regular-season scorers with 82 points in 62 games; in fact, second place point producer and former NHL forward Nigel Dawes was pretty far behind with 69. Gusev also generated 19 points in 18 playoff games, the second best total. Gusev also won a gold medal with Russia during the 2018 Winter Olympics, scoring 12 points in six games.

Yes, KHL successes don’t always directly translate to NHL success, yet we’ve also seen Artemi Panarin and Alexander Radulov go from strong work overseas to dominant play in the NHL. One could picture Gusev combining with, say, Alex Tuch to form a pretty frightening third line — or at least one that might keep up with Joe Thornton‘s also-frightening third line for San Jose. For all we know, Gusev could be a difference-maker during Round 1, and maybe beyond.

On the other hand, for all of the successes the Golden Knights have had in their first two years, there are a few reminders that not every player integrates well into this mix.

Vadim Shipachyov and Gerard Gallant mixed like oil and water, as Slepyshev went from being a KHL scorer with fascinating potential to a disaster (and ultimately, a footnote). There isn’t just the worry of a bumpy ride from the KHL to the NHL. Gallant didn’t have much success with a newcomer in Tomas Tatar, who became a healthy scratch during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and then returned to being effective during the 2018-19 regular season with the Montreal Canadiens.

Gallant certainly wasn’t making any promises when asked about Gusev — in fact, he admitted that he doesn’t know much about the forward (or at least that’s what he said).

“I don’t know much about him, and George (McPhee) mentioned it today there’s some reports out there,” Gallant said on April 11, via David Schoen and Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “If he joins us, then we’ll see what’s going to happen. But I don’t know the player well enough.”

Schoen confirmed Dreger’s report, and Barry’s additional comments make this sound like a work in progress:

It’s all a bit of a mystery, but hey, mysteries are fun, right?

For more on Friday’s Game 2 matchups, read The Wraparound.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

KHL player scores from own zone in back-to-back playoff games

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Goaltenders getting scored on from the other end of the ice will happen from time to time. A bad skip of the puck or a bit of a screen will do enough to allow for a hole to open and disaster to strike.

But in back-to-back games? From the same player? Yep, that happened this week in the KHL.

Henrik Karlsson will be having nightmares about Maxim Chudinov for a while. As Karlsson’s Barys Astana played Chudinov’s Avangard Omsk, who are coached by Bob Hartley, in the KHL’s Gagarin Cup playoffs, the unthinkable happened.

As you see from Chudinov’s first one, Karlsson had a clear view of the puck, but some tough skips helped the puck get by him. Chudinov would add a second goal minutes later as Omsk would top Barys 3-1 to take a 3-1 series lead.

Two nights later, Chudinov, a 2010 seventh-round pick by the Boston Bruins, did it again.

It’s never a good sign when an announcer is laughing after you give up a goal.

That would end up as the insurance goal for Omsk as they eliminated Barys in five games to advance to the conference final.

Chudinov, who also popped in an own-zone goal back in August, may have learned a thing or two from former teammate Andre Kuteikin, who scored three times from center ice during the 2017 Gagarin Cup playoffs. Kuteikin followed that up with another long-range blast early last season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

KHL player maintains rep, scores again from center ice (Video)

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If you’re a goaltender in the KHL you ought to have your head up when Andrei Kuteikin is carrying the puck through the neutral zone.

You see, Kuteikin established a reputation for himself during the 2017 Gagarin Cup playoffs as a Stephen Curry type shooter. Like the Golden State Warriors star, the longtime KHL defenseman isn’t afraid to fire the puck from anywhere. Two seasons ago, he scored three times from center ice for Dynamo Moscow in the postseason.

On Monday, now with Spartak Moscow, the 34-year-old Kuteikin drilled home the eventual game winner versus his old team from way downtown.

That’s Ivan Bocharov between the pipes for Dinamo. A teammate of Kuteikin’s last season, he may not have realized who had the puck or was just feeling super confident he could stop the long-range blast before the shot skipped through his five hole.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

North Americans in KHL: ‘I can’t believe that just happened’

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Ben Scrivens keeps trying to figure out what he is doing wrong.

And it has nothing to do with playing hockey.

Every once in a while in the Kontinental Hockey League, the former NHL goaltender offends someone and has to figure out what Russian superstition or custom he broke. There are plenty.

”You’re supposed to bring cake to the rink on your birthdays,” said Scrivens, a Canadian. ”If you step on someone’s shoe, you’re supposed to put your foot out and they step back. It’s like a tit for tat type of thing. They’re super superstitious and so they have a lot: you can’t whistle in doors, you can’t shake hands through a doorway. And obviously you would never just guess these things, so you have to make the mistake.”

Dozens of North American players returned to the KHL last week after playing in the Olympics, where they learned different cultural lessons in South Korea. For foreigners unaccustomed to Russia and other places in the KHL, life on and off the ice can be a bit of a shock that never quite goes away.

”Pretty much every day there’s something that I shake my head and I can’t believe what’s going on,” said American forward Ryan Stoa, who is in his fourth KHL season after stints with the Colorado Avalanche and Washington Capitals. ”There’s pretty much something every day that I can’t believe that just happened.”

That’s the KHL, where former NHL defenseman James Wisniewski said, ”The normal’s abnormal and the abnormal’s normal.”

That explains a lot, like when a sheep was sacrificed on the ice earlier this season before a Barys Astana practice in Kazakhstan, which made a few North American players vomit at the sight of it.

”That’s probably one of the weirdest things I’ve ever heard of, honestly, in hockey,” Canadian forward Gilbert Brule said. ”I couldn’t believe when I heard that.”

Sheep sacrifice is up there in the pantheon of the unbelievable in the KHL, though there are countless stories about everyday life in what’s considered the second-best hockey league in the world. Wisniewski said saw players giving themselves their own IVs and Wojtek Wolski keeps notes in his phone of the strange stuff he has seen so he doesn’t forget to share stories with friends back home.

”You’ve got to be ready for anything,” Wolski said. ”I always say anything is possible and everything seems impossible at the same time and in the same day, in the same hour.”

Life in the KHL also means some more serious issues. Some players have not gotten paid because teams can’t make payroll. Old planes being used for travel came to light again when 44 people were killed in 2011 in the tragic Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crash.

Scrivens said he can live with 99 percent of the cultural, personal and professional things that bother North American players and tries to ignore the rest.

Former New York Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy’s first day in the KHL was also his birthday, and his new teammates all wondered where the cake was. He and Stoa have gotten used to the Russian custom of shaking hands with everyone each day if you didn’t sleep under the same roof the night before – from players to the bus and Zamboni drivers to rink attendants.

So much for keeping germs in check.

”I think guys get sick quite a bit because of it,” Scrivens said. At the Olympics, which saw an outbreak of norovirus, officials recommended players fist-bump instead of shaking hands.

Asked if he’d been stiffed on pay, Scrivens hedged by saying: ”I don’t have any stories that haven’t already been publicized. I don’t have any worse stories than what’s already out there.” Some players were not willing to share stories because they either still have KHL contracts or could return to the league in the next few years, but Chris Bourque said, ”Every story you hear is true.”

That includes the strenuous two-month training camps.

”Training camp is one of the hardest things there that I’ve probably ever been through in my life,” Brule said. ”You’re basically going for almost two months straight, two-a-days, three-a-days. You’re on the ice twice, you’re working out all day, you get a break for lunch and you’re back at it all afternoon.”

For all the horror stories and head-scratching, Stoa pointed out that some guys have positive experiences in the KHL. Playing for Helsinki-based Jokerit or high-powered and wealthy SKA St. Petersburg or CSKA Moscow is a much different experience than living in Togliatti, Magnitogorsk or Chelyabinsk.

Gilroy said the language barrier is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome, though teams have interpreters to help. Some practices are run in Russian, but for all the craziness that goes on around them, North American players have one place they feel just fine.

”When you’re on the ice, it’s kind of all the same game all over the world,” Gilroy said. ”You feel the most comfortable when you’re on the ice. Off the ice, you’re kind of a fish out of water, but when you’re playing the games it was the most comfortable you could be.”

Ilya Kovalchuk reiterates desire to return to NHL next season

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Ilya Kovalchuk made a bit of news after he won the Olympic gold medal with the Olympic Athletes from Russia. The 34-year-old winger confirmed that he wants to return to the NHL next season.

He last played for the New Jersey Devils during the 2012-13 season, but he’s been with SKA St. Petersburg for the last five seasons.

Kovalchuk, who put up five goals and two assists in six games during the Olympics, has put up some relatively impressive numbers over in Russia, so there should be no shortage of interest from teams in North America. But according to Sports Express’ Slava Malamud, he’ll prioritize winning a Stanley Cup ahead of money.

Malamud added that teams from the New York area, the state of Florida and the city of Los Angeles will be the favorites to land him. Would the Devils take him back? How close are the Rangers and Islanders to winning the Stanley Cup? Maybe playing with Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov is interesting for him, but teaming up with Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy and the rest of the Lightning might be too much to pass up. The Kings would also be in the mix.

Kovalchuk’s rights belong to SKA St. Petersburg until the end of this season. Once his contract runs out in the KHL, he’d remain property of the New Jersey Devils until July 1st, but he’d hit the market with all the other free agents on that day, per The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.