23 January 2019
Curt Fraser stood behind the Red Star bench for the first time as Salavat Yulaev came to Shanghai. The Ufa team will play two games in three days against Kunlun, presenting a stiff test at the start of a new era for the club. So, what did we learn about our new-look team?
First, it’s important to remember that this was a quick turnaround. Coach Fraser only met his team for the first time on Sunday and was taking charge of a game within 48 hours. The roster did not undergo any revolutionary changes, although Fraser opted to recall goalie Alexander Lazushin to the starting line-up ahead of Tomi Karhunen. The new coach also got a boost when Veli-Matti Savinainen was declared fit to play and made his first appearance since December 18.
Promising signs before the game were met by more encouragement on the ice. The first period was tough, with the visitor attacking impressively at times. However, Red Star limited Salavat Yulaev to a solitary goal and was very much in the game. Then, in the middle frame, we saw the benefits of whatever Fraser and his colleagues had to say in the locker room during that intermission. One of the doleful features of our season has been an ability to control the middle session of games; all too often, leads have been allowed to slip or tight games have run away from us. Today, though, we saw the exact opposite. From the start of the session, Kunlun upped the tempo. There was greater conviction about our offense and we were able to start taking the game to an opponent that had, within the previous few weeks, inflicted two heavy losses on our guys.
The rewards came in the latter half of the period. Just after the midway point our fourth line combined to tie the scores. Sam Lofquist, already proving to be a powerful weapon on the blue line, thumped in another slap shot; Lucas Lockhart screened Andrei Kareyev and the visiting goalie’s scrambled save dropped perfectly for Greg Squires to pot his third goal of the season.
Better was to come: a power play late in the stanza saw another shooting chance for Lofquist and another rebound that went Kunlun’s way. Michael Latta had the nuisance factor in front of the net and Olli Palola got his 15th goal of the season to snap a run of four games without a point. As well as putting the seal on one of our most impressive second-period performances of the season (and thus moving the team closer to producing full 60-minute games, moving away from recent inconsistency) it also hints at improvement in another troublesome area. Prior to Tuesday’s game, Red Star’s power play was running at a decidedly pedestrian 14.5% conversion rate; Palola’s goal saw the team convert its only opportunity at playing with a man advantage.
And yet it wasn’t quite enough. Red Star continued in the same vein in the third period and might have extended its lead if a couple of Joonas Jarvinen passes had managed to release Palola on the counter-attack. Unfortunately, they fell inches short of the forward’s stick and the chances were gone. Ufa punished us: Jarvinen took a penalty and Dmitry Kugryshev converted the power play to tie the scores with a little over five minutes to play. Overtime saw Ville Lajunen come close to winning it with a powerful shot at Kareyev but the game went to penalties. Kugryshev got the decider for Salavat and Red Star lost for the eighth time in nine games that have ended in a tie after 60 minutes. For an opening game, this one combined some promising signs with plenty of information about the work still to be done.