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Monday, August 26, 2013

2013-14 Preview: Atlant Moscow Oblast


It was a crazy 2012-13 season in Mytishchi, one that ended with a remarkable and unlikely playoff berth, but that tends to obscure the fact that Atlant have been one of the KHL's stronger teams since the league's inception.  They finished 5th in the KHL in 08-09, made the Gagarin Cup finals in 2010-11, and until last season had never finished outside the top four in the West Conference.  When we throw in the fact that the team has been linked with a big-money owner, it is shaping up to be a most interesting 2013-14 for Atlant.  And all of that is without even taking into account the team's spiffy new logo, pictured above!

2012-13 Record: 19W - 4OTW - 8OTL - 21L for 73 points -- 17th in the KHL -- 8th in the West Conf. -- 4th in the Tarasov Div. -- Lost 4-1 to SKA St. Petersburg in Conf. QFs

INCOMING: F Yevgeny Artyukhin (SKA) | D Vitaly Atyushov (Salavat Yulaev) | G Sergei Borisov (Spartak) | F Juha-Pekka Haataja (Kärpät [SM-liiga]) | F Viktor Kamensky (No Team) | D Anton Klementyev (HK Sarov [VHL]) | F Pavel Kopytin (Buran Voronezh [VHL]) | D Janne Niskala (Dinamo Minsk) | D Vitaly Novopashin (Barys) | F Igor Radulov (CSKA) | F Bobby Sanguinetti (Carolina Hurricanes [NHL]) | D Stefan Stepanov (Albany Devils [AHL]) | F Yury Trubachёv (Salavat Yulaev) | G Yevgeny Tsaregorodtsev (Lada Tolyatti [VHL]) | D Maxim Velikov (Dynamo Moscow)

OUTGOING: G Nikita Davydov (Kuban Krasnodar [VHL]) | D Jonas Frögren (Skellefteå [SEL]) | F Igor Ignatushkin (Torpedo) | F Gleb Klimenko (SKA) | D Dmitry Kosmachёv (Neftekhimik) | F Ilya Krikunov (Avtomobilist) | F Alexander Kuznetsov (Admiral) | F Ilya Nekolenko (Spartak) | D Sandis Ozoliņš (Dinamo Riga) | F Nikita Tochitsky (Torpedo) | D Ivan Vishnevsky (Salavat Yulaev) | G Alexei Volkov (Salavat Yulaev)| G Pёtr Yerёmin (Admiral)

Both Nikolai Zherdev and Patrik Zackrisson joined and subsequently departed from Atlant this summer.

Coach: Sergei Svetlov (since November, 2012)

At first glance, it looks like a bit of grim off-season for Atlant, as both their best forward (Zherdev) and their best defenseman (Ozoliņš) departed for pastures new.  Zherdev in particular is a strange case.  He put up a point per game, nearly, before Atlant traded him to Ak Bars last season.  After returning in the off-season, he was left exposed in the expansion draft, went unclaimed by Admiral Vladivostok, and is now with Lev Prague.  Ozoliņš, magnificent though he was for Atlant last season (he scored half a point per game and went +6 on a team that was -4 overall), is 41 years old, and quite reasonably wants to play out his career at home in Latvia.

First glances, in this case, are deceiving.  Atlant still have last season's top save percentage guy, Stanislav Galimov (.943 sv% in 12-13), in net, and they have actually reinforced the defense in front of him.  Ozoliņš may be gone, but they kept Rafael Batyrshin, who was the team's top +/- defenseman from a year ago at +8, and home-grown youngster Roman Rukavishnikov, who had an excellent rookie season in 2012-13 at the age of 20 (2-9-11, +7 in 49 games).  Furthermore, Atlant have brought in some useful help, in particular Niskala, who spent part of last season with Atlant, and veteran Kazakh rearguard Vitaly Novopashin.

As for Galimov himself, well, goalies are weird and unpredictable, and it is worth noting that Galimov had never previously come close to a league-leading save percentage.  His previous best was a .928, good for 5th in the league, in 2008-09, but as recently as 2011-12 he was seeing significant VHL time, and it is interesting that he was not among the five goalies invited to Russia's pre-Olympic camp this summer.  On the other hand, goalies are unpredictable and weird, and Galimov is only 25 years old, so he is theoretically still on the upswing.  I doubt that Galimov will post a second consecutive season north of .940, but I do not think that Atlant have too much to worry about in net as long as he stays healthy.  Either Tsaregorodtsev or Borisov will win the backup job (it is a close call), and neither one seems likely to work out if called upon to be a regular starter.

Up front, Atlant probably have not managed to completely fill the skates of the departed Zherdev, but the situation is not too horrible.  2012-13's leading goal-scorer for the team, Maxim Mayorov (16 goals) is back, as is Sweden's Andreas Engqvist, who put up .75 points per game.  Of note to Oilers fans, Alexei Mikhnov, who has become a solid player, is still around as well.  Interesting arrivals at forward include Bobby Sanguinetti, who had decent AHL numbers in recent years, and Pavel Kopytin, who scored a point per game last year in the VHL and tore up the Russian Hockey League (the national 3rd division) in 2011-12.  The big name, of course, is that of Igor Radulov, brother of Alexander, who has come over from CSKA.  Igor is nowhere near as skilled as his little brother, but he is a decent player nonetheless.  And Atlant also acquired Yevgeny Artyukhin, last year's KHL penalty minute leader, from SKA St. Petersburg.  Artyukhin punched faces for SKA last season and that was about it (1-1-2 in 30 games) -- his new employers must be hoping that they can rekindle whatever it was that caused him to score 16 goals in 2011-12.  Joking about Artyukhin aside, offensive records are unlikely to fall at the Arena Mytishchi this season, but the forward corps should be good enough in the grand scheme of things.

Setting the bar: This is a tough one.  Asking Atlant merely to make the playoffs seems to be demanding too little of a squad with this sort of on-paper defense and goaltending, but requiring them to make the second round may be too much, particularly given their potential opponents.  Let us say then, that success for Atlant requires making the playoffs comfortably, and giving a good account of themselves or better in the first round.  Making the second round will be excellent, and anything beyond that a triumph.

Next up: Dinamo Minsk!

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