Paying the penalty. Kunlun Red Star 2 Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 4

20 October 2018

A string of minor penalties cost Red Star dear as the team went down to a first-ever home defeat against Neftekhimik. There was plenty of optimism coming into the game: back at home, facing an opponent beaten in Tatarstan earlier this season and buoyed by Tuesday’s great win at CSKA. There was also good news from the treatment room, with Ondrej Vitasek fit to play for the first time since September 28. After weeks of deploying forwards in defensive roles, Jussi Tapola was able to skate with six recognized, experienced blue-liners once again.

That helped Red Star jump to a 2-0 lead early in the second period. But the warning signs were already in place and frequent minor penalties made it hard to build up momentum in the game. In the end, Neftekhimik managed to grab two power play goals – and one more on a delayed penalty – on the way to a road win.

Even before taking the lead, the first period brought tough times for Red Star. A flurry of infringements left our guys playing shorthanded for eight minutes. Neftekhimik was unable to seize the early initiative thanks to a strong PK; the visitor had plenty of time in our zone but could not get a goal in our net.

Once back at full strength, things improved almost immediately. Red Star opened the scoring thanks to Brandon Yip’s fifth goal of the season. He fired home from close range after a no-look pass from Martin St. Pierre behind the net left Neftekhimik’s defense exposed.

Early in the second frame, Red Star increased its lead. This was a move from the practice rink: a face-off in the opposition zone, the puck moved back to the blue line and a point shot from Tomas Kundratek. Crucially, Olli Palola was alert to the possibilities and wriggled his way in front of a defenseman to redirect Kundratek’s attempt beyond Ilya Ezhov. The visiting goalie ended up far from his net; the bench’s appeal to the video could not save it.

But today the penalty box had an irresistible attraction for our players. A couple of minutes after the second goal, Krisjanis Redlihs was the latest Red Star man to take a penalty. This time, at the fifth attempt, Neftekhimik’s power play got it right. Pavel Kulikov reduced the arrears, then Adam Polasek came close to tying the game when his shot almost deceived Alexander Lazushin in our net. Between them, Victor Bartley and Johan Sundstrom combined to clear the danger.

Neftekhimik finally picked up some penalties later in the frame but the visitor’s PK was solid. And, a bit like Red Star in the first period, the visitor immediately found the net when back to full strength. Pavel Padakin emerged from the box in time to tie the scores a couple of minutes before the second intermission.

In the final stanza, Mikael Ruohomaa struck on the power play to put Neftekhimik up for the first time in the game. Then, a few minutes later, Ezhov sprinted to the bench on a delayed penalty and the visitor converted on 6-on-5 advantage thanks to Marat Khairullin. That made it 4-2, with three Neftekhimik goals coming when the visitor had an extra skater on the ice, and there was no way back into the game for Red Star.

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