Moving up the learning curve

21 August 2018

Kunlun Red Star 2 Russia ‘B’ 4

The first stage is over. Red Star’s first pre-season tournament is complete, and the team has learned plenty from the experience. Wednesday’s fourth and final game, a 2-4 loss against Russia’s ‘B’ team, the so-called ‘Olympic’ team, provided more pros and cons for our guys to mull over in the coming days.

As head coach Jussi Tapola explained after the game, the team is still climbing that all-important learning curve. “This was the first tournament where we had such an intense schedule, and that helped us to understand the right way to prepare, the thing we need to do between games,” he said. “The main thing is how we come away from one game and start thinking about the next. It’s clear that we still have problems with this, as we saw today when we weren’t ready to play as a team.”

Despite those shortcomings – and our eventual defeat – there were some positives to take from the performance. Playing against a young but talented Russian team, our guys moved into a 2-0 lead. In the early part of the game, Ville Lajunen showed his quality on the power play when he grabbed the opening goal in the 13th minute and then supply a fine assist as Patrik Lundh made it 2-0 early in the second period. For both the Finn and the Swede, these were their first goals for the club.

However, the Russians struck back almost immediately through a Mikhail Maltsev solo effort – one for the highlight reel as he sliced through the defense after gaining possession on his own blue line. And ill-discipline cost us dear after Victor Bartley took a major penalty and we allowed two goals in little over a minute. Denis Zernov got the second of those, and made the result safe with an empty-net goal.

“We allowed two goals on the penalty kill and that was the decisive moment of the game,” Tapola added. “But the whole issue with our penalties goes back to our lack of readiness. If players aren’t 100% in the zone, physically and mentally, then anything can happen to you and that includes needless penalties. That’s something we have to work on.”

The game also brought a debut for new goalie Ivan Nalimov, who joined up with the team earlier this week in Sochi. While the former Admiral and Salavat Yulaev man could not conjure a win in his first game, he did gain his first point for the club with an assist on Lundh’s effort.

The Sochi Hockey Open finished with our guys collecting one win from four games. But it’s important to remember that these games were against high-quality opposition and took place in an environment more competitive than the usual pre-season scrimmage.

Red Star remains in Sochi for a few more days before heading north to St. Petersburg for the next stage of pre-season preparation. On August 16 we will swap the Black Sea for the Baltic for a week of training before the Puchkov Memorial Tournament. In that event we will again face Sochi and SKA, plus Severstal and Jokerit.

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