Alexei Cherepanov, Jaromir Jagr, and Dmitri Pestunov each had a goal and two assists on Monday as Avangard topped HK MVD in new head coach Wayne Fleming’s KHL debut. With the 7-4 victory, the Hawks extended their winning streak to six games.
Avangard took the early lead thanks to a 5-on-3 power play goal from the left point by Dmitri Ryabikin (watch). Before the second penalty expired, Denis Ezhov made it 2-1 from the top of the left face off circle courtesy of a perfect cross-ice pass from Cherepanov in the right corner (watch). Cherepanov scored a power play goal of his own at 6:35 of the second with a slam-dunk from the slot off a seeing eye pass from behind the net by linemate Anton Kuryanov (watch) to give the Hawks what appeared to be a commanding lead.
But with the 3-0 lead the Hawks relaxed, apparently thinking they had the game wrapped up. MVD showed otherwise, scoring two even strength goals, the first at 8:05 of the second (watch) and the second at 13:49 (watch) to pull within one as the teams started the final period. Just short of the 6-minute mark they tied the score with a soft shot that found its way through a tangle of bodies to beat starting goalie John Grahame stick side (watch).
But the home team put themselves back in the lead only a minute later when Cherepanov and Igor Volkov broke into the offensive zone on a two-on-one. Cherepanov dished a backhand pass to Volkov, who slipped the puck past Canadian goaltender Michael Garnett before being taken down and sent crashing into the net (watch). But once again the Hawks couldn’t hold the lead, and MVD tied it 54 seconds later on the power play (watch).
That’s when Jagr took control of game, scoring with a wrist shot from his office in the right face off circle to give Omsk the 5-4 lead on the power play (watch). He followed it up with an assist on Pestunov’s even strength marker at 15:56 to made it 6-4 (watch). Volkov got his second of the game into the empty net to make it 7-4 as time wound down (watch). Grahame, who stopped 27 of 31 shots in the game, earned his first KHL point, an assist, on the goal.
Jagr’s 3-point performance gives him 13 points (8-5) in 12 games and earned him first star of the game. Cherepanov’s second star performance brought him to the point-per-game level with 10 points (5-5) in 10 games. Third star went to 23-year old Pestunov, who retained the fortunate position of playing Jagr’s opposite wing despite Pavel Rosa’s return to the line up.
Fleming, having only had a 40-minute practice with which to familiarize himself with his team, seemed to leave most of the coaching to his assistants, though after the game Cherepanov assured the press that the Canadian was in control behind the bench. “The hand of the head coach was felt. In spite of the fact that he spoke English on the bench, everyone understood him.” Asked about his team’s seemingly sudden offensive success, the 19-year old explained “We have a good team. We should have played this way on the attack since the start of the season. But the ability to consistently score has come only recently. The same will come on defense in time, I think. Everything will improve.”
The third-year pro enjoyed his first practice under his new North American coach. “Only 25 minutes, but so intense,” he marveled. “In a short time I was so tired, while in an hour and a half previously I didn’t get tired.” He liked the North American approach to practicing. “I consider this more practical,” he admitted.
His initial impression of his new coach was a good one. “Fleming, in principle, I like. Simple in communication, fair.” Fleming let his charges know early that he would break from the typical Russian coaching practice of rolling four lines in succession at all times. “Before the game he spoke with each player separately,” Cherepanov shared. “He immediately warned us to be ready, that he will put lines out on the ice not by turn, but as he sees necessary.” That warning proved true, as Fleming used his fourth line sparingly in today’s game.
Off the ice, Omsk GM Anatoli Bardin, never one to miss an opportunity to name-drop, confirmed speculation by Rangers beat writer Sam Weinman last week that Rangers head coach Tom Renney played a role in Fleming’s recruitment. “As for the appearance of Fleming, the recommendation of New York Rangers head coach Tom Renney played a decisive role in his invitation,” Bardin confirmed. Hopefully the new coach will return the favor by providing Cherepanov with a similarly positive recommendation of Renney and the Rangers organization once the KHL season ends.
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