Saturday, 14 January 2012

Majestic Mazanec steals the points for Plzeň

It was another busy Friday in the Czech Extraliga, as all fourteen teams were in action, with the biggest game of the night being the top of the table clash between second placed Plzeň and third placed Pardubice, with the former nicking two points with a shootout victory on the road. League leaders Sparta broke away from Plzeň by comfortably beating Litvinov, giving them a one point lead in the Extraliga standings, whilst HC Mountfield leapfrogged Pardubice to claim third spot at the end of the gameday with a close fought victory against Zlin. Kladno's sudden loss of form continued, as they got spanked 8-2 by Liberec, and Slavia moved up to 11th place with a dominating performance, defeating Vitkovice 6-0 on their travels. Kometa finally got back to winning ways as they beat last placed Mlada Boleslav in a shootout.

Marek Mazanec making one of his 32 saves
in Plzeň's shootout win over Pardubice
photo: Jan Jedlička 
Back to the game of the night, and the fans at the ČEZ Aréna in Pardubice were treated to a great game of hockey, in which Pardubice had the better of play for the most part. 9455 were in attendance as the home side laid siege on Marek Mazanec at times, but the twenty year old goalie had probably his best Extraliga performance to date as he made 32 saves, as well as both of Pardubice's shootout attempts. However, there was nothing he could do about the first Pardubice goal, as Martin Šagát fired past him after great work behind the net by Corey Elkins. Plzeň tied the game up with just 53 seconds to go in the first though, as Jan Kovář was hooked on a breakaway, giving him a penalty shot, which he expertly finished past Martin Růžička, shifting the puck onto his backhand and roofing it in the top of the net. Pardubice started the second period strongly though, and their pressure eventually paid off as young defenceman Marek Drtina scored his first ever Extraliga goal, with a tricky wrister from the point that eluded Mazanec and ended up in the back of the net. But once again, back came the Pilsner Urquell boys, and Pavel Vostřák scored, finishing off a great move by the Plzeň forwards, to leave the score at 2-2 at the second intermission. Plzeň took the lead for the first time in the game just three minutes into the third frame, with the goal coming from Václav Pletka, who's dogged determination at the doorstep meant he was finally able to bundle the puck over the line after numerous whacks at it. Things were looking bleak for Pardubice, and they were struggling to get that spark to tie the game up, but with just over two minutes to go, they got it. Pure brilliance by Jan Kolář, as he hustled his way past Jiří Marusak, eliminated Jiří Hanzlík from the play, before putting it on a plate for Pardubice captain, Petr Koukal to hammer home and send us to the extra period. Overtime was a non-entity, but come shootout time, Plzeň were lethal, as Jan Kovář and Martin Straka both scored, whilst Pardubice's efforts were stopped by Mazanec, giving Plzeň an unlikely, but extremely important road win.

Sparta go close against Litvinov
Sparta would have been delighted with their work going into the big derby on Sunday, as they comfortably dispatched of a lacklustre Litvinov outfit. Slovak forward Mario Bližňák had a three point night as Sparta won by a score of 6-1. They scored two goals in the first period, with Petr Tenkrát finishing at a tight angle, and Miroslav Forman scoring after a nifty tic-tac-toe play on the doorstep with Lukáš Luňák. The second period was quiet in terms of goals, with Bližňák giving the travellers a 3 goal lead at the second break, but it all kicked off between Angel Krstev and Jan Brejčák, as the pair both received 5+game penalties for roughing. The pair initially came to blows in front of Petr Franěk in the Litvinov goal whilst Sparta were on the powerplay, as Krstev took offence to repeated cross checks to his back by Brejčák, and the latter certainly had the better of the tussle. In the third period, Sparta pulled away to a 5-0 lead, with the fifth being an exceptionally soft one as Franěk made a regulation stop and dropped it at his feet. David Pojkar got a consolation goal for Litvinov just as their powerplay expired, but that was their lone piece of joy in the game, as their slide down the table continues, as they find themselves now firmly in the regulation places at the end of the gameday. Speaking after the game, Bližňák was coy about his teams chances in the derby, as he said, "I expect a balanced game like the previous derby was. It does not matter at all that we are at the top of the table and Slavia are at the bottom." (source)

Litvinov were leapfrogged by Slavia Praha, whose post-Christmas form has seen them win three in a row, and go into Sunday's derby full of confidence. Slavia scored six times for just the second time this season, with both of these occurrences coming in the past week. Dominik Furch added another shutout to his total for this season and Vladimír Růžička Sr. will be delighted with the turn in form of Tomáš Pospíšil, as the Kometa asset scored his fourth goal in three games, with his brace against Vitkovice. Furch was made to work hard for his shutout, making 34 saves and stopping a Jan Káňa penalty shot which came early in the first period. Slavia had a rotten first period, taking five minor penalties to give Vitkovice all the chances they needed to score, but Furch was equal to them all. Once Slavia had stopped their march to the penalty box, they blew Vitkovice away, as they scored four times in the second frame to take the game away. Pospíšil scored his first 45 seconds in, Michal Vondrka found him completely alone in front of Malek to tap home. Twelve minutes later, Pospíšil had his second, this time finishing off a 2 on 1, firing the puck into the net after receiving it from Jan Alinč. Vitkovice's defence was all at sea dealing with the speed of Slavia's forwards, and Slavia's third came after Tomáš Kůrka turned on the jets and burned past both defenceman, firing the wrister past Malek with 74 seconds to go in the second. Slavia had time to add one more before the break though, with the goal coming from the stick of Tomáš Kudělka, as Vladimír Růžička Jr's cross crease pass took a wicked deflection off of the Vitkovice defenceman. That spelled the end of Roman Malek's night, the veteran goalie let down by his defence, although Malek's save percentage was slightly worse for wear after two periods, as Slavia had scored 4 goals off of just 14 shots. Filip Šindelář couldn't do much better though, as Slavia scored twice more on just five shots, as Lukáš Krenželok scored on a penalty shot, eluding Šindelář's weak poke check attempt to score on the backhand, before Michal Vondrka closed the scoring, adding to his two assists on the night by scoring a marvellous goal, easing past Ctirad Ovčačík before scoring on his backhand. Brilliant by Slavia. Worrying by Vitkovice.

HC Mountfield moved up to third place in the standings with an impressive victory at the Zimní stadion Luďka Čajky against Zlín. The hosts outplayed Mountfield for a large part of the game, but Jakub Kovář had another solid performance in goal, making 30 saves. After a scoreless first, Ondřej Veselý got Zlín on the board with a rebound goal after great board play behind the net by Roman Vlach and loan signing Marek Melenovsky. Mountfield would come back though, and it was Jakub Langhammer and Milan Gulaš who were the heroes for the Budvar boys. Langhammer scored his first, assisted by Gulaš just over a minute after Zlin went ahead, as the puck seemed to trickle through both of the Zlin defencemen's legs, before falling at the stick of Langhammer who rifled past Sedláček. Zlin thought they had retaken the lead late in the second period, but a Petr Čajánek goal was washed out for high sticks. In the third, Mountfield took the lead for the first time, with Gulaš scoring a powerplay goal, assisted by Langhammer, but Zlin tied the game up a couple of minutes later, with Marek Melenovsky scoring his first goal in blue and yellow since returning on loan from Karlovy Vary, somehow jamming the puck home whilst being wrestled to the ice by both of the Mountfield defencemen. However, it wasn't to be for the Moravians, as with just three minutes to go, Langhammer scored his second of the night, finishing off a two on one break with Jiří Šimánek, somehow managing to get the puck out of his feet before firing top shelf, and giving the points to the České Budějovice outfit.

In mid table action, the white tigers of Liberec put the knights of Kladno to the sword, thrashing them by a score of 8-2 at home. Kladno's much maligned goaltending issues reared their head again, as neither Cikánek, who was pulled after conceding five on twenty, or Chabera, who conceded three on fourteen showed any signs of keeping Kladno in the game. Liberec had eight different scorers, and scored four times in the second frame, but the star of the show, once again, was captain Petr Nedvěd who went 1+3 on the night. Credit must also be given to Jiří Moravec, who had three assists. Liberec gave Kladno a five minute powerplay in the second, as David Štich was tossed for the game for a 5+game penalty for roughing, as he beat the you know what out of Jiří Bicek after the Slovakian forward had collided with Marek Pinc. However, Liberec ended up scoring twice on Kladno's extended powerplay. Kladno's slide towards the relegation playoffs leaves them with a cushion of a solitary point over Kometa and Slavia, who are in 10th and 11th respectively. All the optimism that the club had at the start of the year seems to be slowly fading.

Subdued celebrations after their 8-2 victory
photo: Vladimir Jína
Třinec continued their march for an automatic playoff spot, as they closed the gap on sixth placed Zlin with a comfortable 4-1 win against Karlovy Vary. The Steelers took the lead just 80 seconds in as new signing Tomáš Klouček scored on his debut after leaving KHL side Lev Poprad, just signed put the road side into the lead. Třinec should have been given a goal a few minutes after their first, as Lukas Mensator somehow got away with kicking his goal off on a breakaway. However, nine minutes later, Třinec had doubled their advantage with another goal from their defence corps, as Martin Lojek beat  Mensator with a rebound effort on the powerplay. Another two goals in the second period by Třinec finished the game off, as Jiří Polanský and Tomáš Klimenta scored, with Miroslav Hořava picking up his third assist of the night on Klimenta's goal. Karlovy Vary had got the game back to 2-1 in the first period with a goal from captain Petr Kumstat, but they were severely outclassed by the defending champions, and they remain in 13th place.

The final game of the night was a bottom of the table clash between Kometa Brno and Mlada Boleslav, whereby the second city side scraped by, condemning Mlada to their fifth straight defeat. Mlada did manage to get a point of the game as they took it to a shootout, but in another tight game, their offence only mustered a solitary goal. Mlada took the lead in the first period through Jiří Cetkovský, as he scored on a delayed powerplay goal after brilliant work by Zdeněk Bahenský. This goal came after Michal Valent had stopped a  Tomáš Divíšek penalty shot, and made a number of quality saves, 38 on the night. Brno tied the game in the second period with a Tomáš Svoboda powerplay goal, scoring on a rebound. The game petered out in the final minutes, and come shootout time, Sasu Hovi took over replacing Trvaj, and the Finnish netminder stopped both of Mlada's efforts, whilst Divíšek and Dlouhy scored for Brno, giving them the two points.

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