What difference does five and a half weeks make?
The last time Plzeň 1929 visited Sparta Praha, back on October 29, Sparta won 3-0 to leap over Plzeň in the standings. On Tuesday night, Sparta prevailed 4-3 and they again jumped ahead of their West Bohemian opponents in the standings. That doesn't seem odd until you consider that Plzeň was stripped of 19 points in the interim.
After that October 29 game, Sparta went 1-1-0-10 (on the 3-2-1-0 points scale) in its next 12 games to plunge into 12th place in the 14-team league. Since then, they've won two in a row, including Tuesday's game, to climb back up one notch to 11th. The team's struggles reflected in the crowd, with only 3,318 in attendance.
On the other side was Plzeň 1929. Between the October 29 and December 7 games at Sparta, they posted a record of 8-1-1-2, and would now find themselves in sixth place, if not for the 19 points they were penalized for dressing improperly-registered players. A serious blow, to be sure, but it hasn't seemed to have negatively affected their play.
"We get told a little bit about it," said John Lammers of Langley, BC. "All we know is we lost 19 points and we've just got to forget about it and play hard."
Plzeň was led offensively by the line of Nick Johnson, Radek Duda, and Martin Straka, which scored all three of the team's goals. Straka scored twice in the first period, including a power-play marker on a slapshot with four seconds left in the period to send the visitors to the room with a 2-1 lead.
Straka also showed he still has wheels at age 38 when he beat Petr Ton in a race for the puck in the second period to prevent Ton from getting a breakaway. Moments later, Sparta's Yorick Treille (a Frenchman who played Junior A hockey in Saskatchewan for the Notre Dame Hounds and NCAA hockey for UMass-Lowell) did get a breakaway and was hauled down by Jaroslav Modrý, resulting in a penalty shot. Treille made good on the attempt to tie the score.
|Nick Johnson ties the score in the third period. Photo|
courtesy Jan Beneš, www.sporting-photo.com.
Karel Hromas and Marek Bartánus also scored for Sparta on the night. The last time these teams met, Tomáš Pöpperle recorded a shutout against his former team. Despite allowing 3 goals this time, he picked up the win, thanks to some rare goal support from his team.
|Doug O'Brien and game-winning-goal scorer Tomáš Kůrka.|
Photo courtesy Ladislav Adámek, www.getfoto.cz.
|John Slaney (left) trying to keep Petr Kafka in check.|
Photo courtesy Jan Beneš, www.sporting-photo.com.
"He's a legend, I think. Everybody looks up to him. He's played, what, about 20 years? Everybody knows him, for sure."
Slaney played the game with a low shield to protect the recently healed broken jaw that kept him out of the lineup for 11 games, though surprisingly not longer.
"(I returned) about three weeks early," he said after the game, "It's nice to get back and help the team. Tough loss tonight but lately things have gone better."
Sparta is now in 11th place with 33 points, 7 behind Benzina Litvínov, who currently occupy the 10th and final playoff position. Plzeň is three points behind Sparta, but have two games in hand.