The Barys Astana hockey club has missed the Continental Hockey League (KHL) Gagarin Cup playoffs for the first time in eight years despite a Feb. 18 shootout victory over hockey club Avangard Omsk in the last game of the regular season.
The Kazakh team missed the playoffs by one point as, two days prior, Barys was crushed by Ak Bars Kazan 2:5, while its main rival for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, Neftekhimik of Neftekamsk, collected the necessary points in its parallel games.
Today, pundits argue about what caused the failure. Among the main reasons, one should note coaching reshuffles in Barys during the season.
At the beginning of the season, the club appointed local specialist Yerlan Sagymbayev, after the previous coach Andrei Nazarov unexpectedly departed Astana for a coaching job with the reigning Gagarin Cup holders SKA St. Petersburg.
Sagymbayev began giving more playing time to the younger home-grown players, perhaps with the upcoming 2016 IIHF World Championships in Russia in mind. However, Barys lost a good number of points at the start, so the club management decided to replace Sagymbayev with his assistant Evgeniy Koreshkov. In November, as soon as Nazarov was fired from SKA after a failed start there too, he was reinstated as the Astana coach.
Another reason for Barys’s lacklustre performance this season may have been a generational change. A lack of strong centres in the attacking line played a role, too. Dmitry Upper did not recover well from an injury and Nikolai Antropov had to miss the season due to family reasons.
The goaltenders’ play was a drawback too. Slovak Ján Laco did not save as many times as he should have had, and the same lack of stability plagued his younger backup Pavel Poluektov.
The bright spot was the roaster’s North American line whose players ended up in the top individual rankings of the KHL season. For example, the Minnesotan Brandon Bochenski, who is the captain of Barys, with 61 points ranked third in goals plus assists (21 goals and 40 assists) and had the season’s longest run of matches (15) with points earned in each match.
Bochenski’s fellow winger from the first line, the Manitoban Nigel Dawes, scored the second highest number of goals (31) in the league, only one goal shy of the ranking leader Sergei Mozyakin. The Ontarian Barys veteran Kevin Dallman ranked second among defenders with 40 points.
Hockey is a team game, however, so individual skills too often prove insufficient for an overall success.
Now, the Kazakh fans are left only with the hope that their national team would do better than Barys in the upcoming IIHF World Championships in May. Team Kazakhstan’s main goal in Moscow and St. Petersburg will be to avoid relegation back to the lower division while naturally more pleasant surprises would be welcome too.