The team from Nizhnekamsk will play their first match of the KHL regular season at home against St. Petersburg SKA. Will SKA continue showing strong play? Let’s find out.
In the offseason, Neftekhimik lost Sharychenkov, Berglund, Paygin, and Shapirzyanov. They were replaced by “shot down pilots” Graborenko, Kucheryavenko, Osipov, Galuzin, Loginov, Andrey Kostitsyn. With limited funding, Vyacheslav Butsaev is forced to look for talents among Nizhnekamsk youth. In terms of squad level, Neftekhimik is in the tail of the East. But due to the balance of experience and youthful enthusiasm, it can compete for the playoffs.
Preparation for the new season turned out to be incomplete for Neftekhimik. In early August, Nizhnekamsk without newcomers and legionnaires lost to Neftyanik Almetyevsk of the SHL, and then took part in the Cup of the Republic of Bashkortostan. In Ufa, Neftekhimik beat Severstal, but lost to Salavat Yulaev and Traktor. In mid-August, the team passed coronavirus tests and received two positive results. Because of this, the match with CSKA VVS and the scrimmage tournament in Chelyabinsk were cancelled. Neftekhimik has been without playing practice for more than two weeks.
SKA’s preseason was more intense: the team had 11 meetings, in which they won five times. The St. Petersburg club is excellently maneuvering in the face of a tight salary cap and has not become weaker than the previous year. Bragin, as expected, focuses on youth. Huge hopes are pinned on three hockey players, namely Marchenko, Morozov, Podkolzin. To unload the payroll, SKA got rid of stars Plotnikov and Yakupov. The main signings are Linden Vei from CSKA and Antipin from Magnitogorsk. Negotiations continue on Kamenev and Trenin.
SKA showed brilliant performance in the last months before the quarantine, but whether Bragin, who has never shown results at the club level, can build on this success is a big question.
Neftekhimik – SKA prediction
Over the past two years, Neftekhimik has become an inconvenient rival for SKA. Three of the last four face-to-face matches ended with victories of the Nizhnekamsk team. Both teams are not in the best physical shape. We think that Neftekhimik will lose, but the game will not be productive in terms of scored goals.