Kovalchuk Inspires SKA to Winning Streak

Kovalchuk Inspires SKA to Winning Streak

Published: October 24, 2012 (Issue # 1732)

SKA St. Petersburg extended its winning streak to seven games with a 3-2 win over Atlant Moscow Oblast on Monday night in Mytishchi.

U.S. National Hockey League lockout signing and team captain Ilya Kovalchuk scored a goal and an assist in the victory and has been a key element in the team’s success since his arrival on Sept. 17.

In that time he has played 11 games, tallying seven goals and 13 assists — making him one of the Kontinental Hockey League’s leading players in assists and points.

“He’s been a great leader and his play has been inspirational,” said SKA head coach Milos Riha last week at a post-game press conference in St. Petersburg. “But really the whole team has showed a lot of spirit and fought to the end. I’m proud of them.”

In last week’s home series, SKA scored four goals to down Metallurg Novokuznetsk 4-2 last Monday, hammered Amur Khabarovsk 7-3 the following day and shut out Eastern Division powerhouse Sibir Novosibirsk 2-0 Thursday.

“Sure, it’s tough playing back-to-back games. October has been a difficult month for us with lots of games and a long road trip,” Miha said, alluding to games in Prague and Bratislava at the start of the month. “Last year we didn’t have such a tight schedule, but I’m not going to complain. We’re just going to do everything we can to prepare for the next game.”

SKA’s winning streak has been built on stellar play by last year’s foreign fan favorites Patrick Thoresen (Norway) and Tony Martensson (Sweden), as well as Canadian newcomer Kevin Dallman, who spent last season with Kazakh side Barys Astana. Unrestricted free agent Viktor Tikhonov is also back in shape and getting more time on the ice, as is another of last year’s leaders, Vladimir Tarasenko, who was set to head to the St. Louis Blues at the start of this season but remained with SKA after the lockout.

Miha surprised journalists when he said that because Tarasenko had not started playing for the U.S. team, he doesn’t count under the KHL’s special regulations that stipulate that teams may only add three NHL players to their rosters, and that SKA is still eligible to sign one more locked-out player.

Miha wouldn’t comment on who the team is eyeing, saying only: “That decision will be made by management. I was hoping to get a solid center and we signed a goaltender and a winger.

“The players are hungry for ice time and they have been bringing their best game to practice sessions. Even if the lockout ends, the younger players are getting valuable experience playing with these guys,” he added.

Talks are continuing between the NHL and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) but negotiations over player rights, contracts and salaries have stalled for the time being after the NHL rejected three counterproposals by the NHLPA last Thursday. On Friday the NHL canceled all games through Nov. 1.

As a result more and more locked-out players are considering options in Europe. Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom became the 37th locked out player to sign with a KHL team when the Swede inked a deal with Dinamo Moscow last Friday.

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