3. CSKA, 16 matches, 10 regulation victories, 2 penalty shootout victories, 3 regulation defeats, 1 overtime defeat, goal difference 49-33, 25 points
6. SKA, 17 matches, 10 regulation victories, 4 regulation defeats, 2 penalty shootout defeats, 1 overtime defeat, goal difference 52-44, 23 points
2019 Gagarin Cup champions CSKA, despite the departures of leading lights Ilya Sorokin, Alexei Marchenko, Kirill Kaprizov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Linden Vey during the summer, are still rightly regarded as one of the best KHL teams. Coached by Igor Nikitin, the Moscow-based outfit have made a traditionally strong start to the campaign, gaining 12 wins in 16 matches to lead the Western Conference. However, CSKA have shown signs of weakness in recent games, losing their last two consecutive matches to Metallurg in Magnitogorsk (4:6) and Jokerit in Helsinki (2:5). CSKA had previously won seven straight against Severstal (5:0), Avangard (4:2) and Dynamo Moscow (2:0) at home and Jokerit (4:2), Dinamo Riga (technical victory), Spartak Moscow (5:4) and Salavat Yulaev (4:2) on the road.
This battle appears to have arrived at the perfect time for our team. Following their return to action after an unavoidable two-week break, our players failed to impress in matches against Metallurg Magnitogorsk (1:4) and HC Sochi (4:3) at the Saint Petersburg Ice Palace, as they struggled physically on the ice. Nevertheless, they showed a great improvement in a narrow loss to Dynamo Moscow at home (3:4), before subsequently beating Sochi away from home (4:1) to confidently get back to winning ways. Interim head coach Roman Rotenberg noted that the players' bodies are now able to cope with the demands of top-level ice hockey games again following their illness.
Friday's duel incidentally marks the maiden Army Rivalry of the 2020/2021 KHL season. CSKA, albeit with a game in hand, are only two points ahead of second-placed SKA in the conference.
POINTS LEADERS IN LAST FIVE MATCHES
Maxim Mamin: 5 (3+2) points
Nikolai Goldobin: 5 (2+3) points
Konstantin Okulov: 4 (1+3) points
Anton Burdasov: 4 (1+3) points
Vladislav Kamenev: 3 (1+2) points
Vladimir Tkachyov: 3 (0+3) points
The experienced Alexander Sharychenkov, a familiar face to SKA fans after his showings as a Dynamo Moscow player in the past, is CSKA's starting goalkeeper this season. So far, the 29-year-old has participated in 13 matches for the Muscovites, recording a 91.8% save percentage, a goals against average of 1.99 and two shutouts. Back-up goaltender Vsevolod Skotnikov has made three appearances with a save percentage of 91.7% and a 1.94 goals against average.
Magnus Hellberg is back between the pipes for SKA after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. To date, the reliable 29-year-old Swede has played in three games, winning them all while earning a save percentage of 92.6% and a goals against average of 2.34. He stopped 29 of 30 shots he faced against Sochi on Wednesday in his first appearance since early September.
WHERE TO WATCH
Puck drop is scheduled for 19:30 local time at the CSKA Arena in Moscow. Match TV and Channel 78 will show the match live on television in Russia, whereas you can purchase a broadcast worldwide on the KHL's website. We will provide text updates on our official Twitter account.