Close encounters - Kunlun Red Star

Close encounters

30 January 2019

Red Star’s final road trip of the regular season takes in three Chernyshev Division colleagues and offers a chance of picking up much needed points to keep the playoff dream alive. The visit to Novosibirsk on Feb. 4 could prove crucial – Sibir is one of our closest rivals in the race to overhaul Traktor and both teams will know that success in that game would also deal a big blow to a dangerous opponent. Against Amur and Admiral, we are boosted by the knowledge that Kunlun has been ahead of these teams throughout the season.

There’s also an individual race to focus on. Our leading goalscorers, Brandon Yip and Olli Palola, both have 17 goals this season. No Kunlun player has managed more than 20 in a season before – with eight games still to play, could one or both of these two improve on Chad Rau’s tally from 2016-17?

 

Jan. 31: Amur Khabarovsk

Last time out: We’ve played Amur twice already in Shanghai this season, winning 3-1 on December 17 thanks to a Finnish scoring trifecta but losing 2-3 the following day. Our four previous visits to Khabarovsk have yielded two wins and two losses.

Familiar faces: Only Amur forward Igor Velichkin has played for both clubs, and his opportunities have been limited this season.

Background: Amur looked like it had given up on this season. After a win on December 25, the Khabarovsk team lost 10 in a row before unexpectedly re-emerging this week. Saturday’s 3-0 win over Salavat Yulaev was a surprise; Monday’s 7-0 thrashing of Admiral will go down as one of the club’s most memorable games. With its own playoff hopes now largely theoretical, Amur is playing without much pressure – often a dangerous time to face any opponent.

Key men: Czech goalie Marek Langhamer has enjoyed shut-outs in his last two games – a big step up after his KHL debut in December ended inside three minutes with Amur trailing 0-2 at Lokomotiv. His compatriot Tomas Zohorna rediscovered his scoring form of late, potting two against Salavat Yulaev and another against Admiral.

 

Feb. 4: Sibir Novosibirsk

Last time out: Red Star earned its second 4-2 win of the season over Sibir on November 29 and has five wins from seven meetings with this opponent overall. However, the Nov. 28 game in Shanghai was a bit special: Sibir won in a shoot-out, but only after Olli Palola scored twice in the last minute to force a 5-5 tie in regulation and pot Kunlun’s first ever KHL hat-trick.

Familiar faces: Gilbert Brule played for us last season but scored on us to get his first goal for Sibir back in November. Pavel Vorobei swapped Shanghai for Siberia earlier this season, but is currently assigned to Sibir’s farm club, Metallurg Novokuznetsk.

Background: After Sibir’s wretched start to the season – 12 straight losses without so much as a battle into overtime – few would have given the team a chance of even pressing its nose greedily against the playoff window. Yet a steady improvement since October has the Siberians level on points with Red Star and, like us, hoping to overhaul Traktor and sneak into postseason. It might be premature to dub this game a playoff eliminator, but it’s clear that both teams will see it as a crucial battle on the way to the season’s end. With four wins from five, Sibir holds the edge on recent form – but anyone who remembers that pulsating 5-5 tie in Shanghai knows that this is a match-up where anything can happen.

Danger men: With 17 (5+12) points in 21 games, Brule’s contribution since arriving has made a big impact in his team’s renaissance. Teenage forward Nikita Shashkov has the confidence to play under Wayne Gretzky’s old number 99 and was a key figure as Russia’s Juniors won World Championship bronze at the start of the year.

 

Feb. 6: Admiral Vladivostok

Last time out: We began 2019 with back-to-back games against the Sailors, losing 2-3 on Jan. 4 before bouncing back to win the next day as Drew Shore made an impressive Red Star debut.

Familiar faces: Defenseman Oskars Bartulis played 32 times for Admiral last season, gaining five assists. However, he is on the injured list at the time of writing.

Background: The final game before the international break will likely see Red Star without Czech defenseman Ondrej Vitacek. He’s been called up by his country to take part in the Swedish Hockey Games in Stockholm on Feb. 7-10. Admiral’s last two games ended in defeats, with 12 goals allowed including a painful 0-7 thrashing at home to Amur. ‘Painful’ has been the word for much of Admiral’s season, with the team sinking to the foot of the Eastern Conference table and allowing more short-handed goals than any other team in the KHL. But, like Amur, there’s still plenty of pride to play for: both of Russia’s Far Eastern clubs are battling to avoid the wooden spoon and maintain at least some local bragging rights.

Danger men: Vladimir Butuzov has five goals in his last five games. Konstantin Glazachev (15+11) and Alexander Chernikov (10+16) are the leading scorers with 26 points apiece.

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