Slovak Symmetry. Slovan Bratislava 4 Kunlun Red Star 3 OT

15 October 2018

This scoreline mirrored the result a month ago when Slovan came to Shanghai – and Red Star duly skated off with a shootout verdict. That, though, was only our team’s second win of the season. Two more losses followed before things started to click. Now, despite Sunday’s defeat, Red Star can point to a run of nine games, seven of which have seen the team collect at least one point.

Along the way, we’ve seen individuals hit a rich vein of form. Two of them, Ville Lajunen and Taylor Beck, were at it again here. Lajunen, a genuine two-way defenseman, scored for the second game running. More impressively, he too has been among the points in seven of the last nine games. Indeed, the Finn has only failed to get something in six games this season – great stuff from a blue liner. Today’s goal, tying the scores at 1-1 midway through the second period, was a center point shot after a probing power play.

The feed for that strike came from Beck, who finished today’s game with 1+2. That three-point haul was his best of the season so far and takes his current streak to seven (1+6) in four games. Like Lajunen – and like the team – he’s picked up points in seven of the last nine. Today he scored our second goal, albeit with the help of a bounce off Patrik Batik’s heel, and fed Martin St. Pierre for a dramatic last-minute equalizer.

It all adds up to more evidence that Jussi Tapola’s systems are taking effect as we hoped. There’s a visible understanding between the players that was sometimes lacking at the start of the season. Partnerships are steadily developing, the power play is looking ever more potent and potential is steadily turning into performances and points. And, as the old cliché goes, ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’. Today, two of our three goals came from deflections off opposing skates. As well as good fortune, though, it’s important to acknowledge the contribution of our forwards. Brandon Yip’s battle with Michal Sersen left the home defenseman with nowhere to go as St. Pierre’s last-gasp shot came in. Beck’s determination to drive to the net caught Batik in no-man’s-land. In sport, teams make their own luck – and we are starting to do that.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite stretch as far as a victory here. Overtime ended quickly, Rudolf Cerveny potted the winner for Slovan with the first shot of the extras, producing a neat backhand finish after a rush down the right-hand channel. That settled the outcome of this game, but there’s plenty of encouragement to take into Tuesday’s trip to face in-form CSKA in Moscow. The Army Men are on a 12-game winning streak and handed Amur 5-0 beating this afternoon, so Red Star’s improvement will be put to the toughest of tests.

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