After a short break for the annual Karjala Cup in Finland, the KHL has resumed play. After 20 games of a season, a better picture of who the top teams will be comes into clearer focus. So let's check out the rankings.
(All records are as of 11/12/2009)
Salavat Yulaev Ufa (16-3-3, first-Chernyshev)
Last Five: 5-0-0
Salavat Yulaev is absolutely on fire under Russian national coach Vyacheslav Bykov and have been scoring goals at will. They are the definition of an offensive juggernaut. In their last five outings, they have registed victories of 6-0, 6-1, and 7-1, with two of those coming away from home.
They fitting lead the league by a mile in goals scored with 86, but maybe more impressively, every player on the roster has a positive plus/minus. Alexander Radulov leads the pack with 11 goals, 26 points and has a plus-13 in 20 games.
Metallurg Magnitogorsk (18-3-0, first-Kharlamov)
Last Five: 5-0-0
As nearly complete opposites as their foes from Ufa, Magnitogorsk wins with superb goaltending and defense, quite a difficult feat in an very offensive-oriented league. But they only allow 1.71 goals per game and have four shutouts already, thanks to the stellar play of 22-year-old netminder Ilya Proskuryakov.
They will be happy to lull a team to sleep, but don't be fooled. They can play offense too. With the brothers Fedorov and a motivated Stanislav Chistov, the Steelers' depth is unmatched anywhere. Every skater has registered at least a point.
The Very Good, But Have Some Work to Do
SKA St. Petersburg (16-5-2, first-Bobrov)
Last Five: 3-1-1
Barry Smith's squad has shown flashes of true brilliance, but haven't been able to continually play at a very high level. After failing a test against Salavat Yulaev, they lost a pair of very winnable games, including a dismal 4-1 defeat to Dinamo Riga.
But with a host of NHL veterans, including Sergei Zubov, Sergei Brylin, Alexei Yashin, and Petr Cajanek, this team has all the talent of an elite team.
Goalie Robert Esche has been nothing short of impressive as well and has dreams of receiving an invite to the U.S. Olympic Team.
The Plucky Combatants
Avangard Omsk (12-5-4, second-Chernyshev)
Last Five: 2-1-2
The Vanguard have been living and dying by the shootout in their recent games, as they can't seem to be able to close games out in regulation time. Jaromir Jagr has been scoring, but a true secondary option hasn't stepped up to relieve the Czech veteran. They have looked like a great team with Anton Babchuk patrolling the back line, except he has missed a few games along the line.
Former Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Kari Ramo has done a fine job, but has been feeling the heat recently from upstart 27-year-old Evgeny Tsaregorodtsev.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (13-6-3, first-Tarasov)
Last Five: 4-0-1
Yaroslavl established themselves early that they were a team that can score with anyone in the league, and they don't care how many they allow. This team is never out of a game. Fueled by Sergei Konkov, who just can't stop scoring with three multi-goal games all coming away from home, the Lokomotive just keeps rolling.
Their only blemish in the last five was an overtime loss at Magnitogorsk.
Dinamo Moscow (12-7-2, second-Bobrov)
Last Five: 4-1-0
A beneficiary of a friendly home stand, Dinamo won four straight games at the Minor Arena. Although it finished with a sour 5-1 defeat to Dynamo Minsk, they did pick up points against SKA and Metallurg.
Mattias Weinhandl has 13 goals to pace a hard-working team. But they just don't appear to have the weapons to keep pace with SKA in the division.
The Talented But in Need of Help
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (12-8-2, second-Kharlamov)
Last Five: 3-2-0
The Petrochemists from Tartarstan have been a true revelation. But they need some help. They have been involved in a number of wild shootouts recently, as nearly every other game they are allowing or scoring six goals.
Their main problem isn't getting points from weaker opponents. It's their inability to do much against the league's best that holds them back.
Barys Astana (11-6-5, third-Chernyshev)
Last Five: 3-1-1
They've abused some lower level teams and not had so much fun against upper-level competition. But the Kazakhs, only in their second season playing in Russia, find themselves competing in possibly the most offensive-minded division in hockey. Coming up next for Andrey Shayanov's men is Metallurg Magnitogorsk.