Denied by Metsola

4 September 2019

Kunlun Red Star 0 Salavat Yulaev Ufa 2

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One day later, we got to do it all again. Barely had the dust settled on yesterday’s shoot-out victory over Salavat Yulaev than Kunlun Red Star took to the Shenzhen ice against the same opponent. There were changes to the line-up. Simon Hrubec replaced Jeremy Smith in goal as the Czech international made his KHL debut, while the defensive pairs were shuffled. This time around, Trevor Murphy would partner Mathew Maione, Jake Chelios linked up with Andrej Sustr and Jason Fram replaced Brayden Jaw to join Victor Bartley.

These back-to-back games frequently produce contrasting results and unfortunately for Red Star that proved to be the case here. After winning the first meeting, our guys were unable to record a second successive victory as visiting goalie Juha Metsola produced a strong performance to frustrate our offense. The Finn got stronger as the game went on, finding the answers time and again as Kunlun produced progressively more offense with each passing period. In the opening frame he rode his luck when a Wojtek Wolski effort took a looping deflection that could have gone anywhere but dropped safely for the visitor, but for the most part he produced an assured display.

At the other end, chances were less frequent. One thing that is clear from the first two games is that defensively this team is rather tighter than last season. Of course, there is still work to be done: Mikhail Pashnin highlighted a weak spot when he surged from center ice and found space to shoot backhanded past Hrubec for the opening goal. But there are signs that the current Red Star roster is allowing fewer good looks at its net, something that can only help as the season progresses. That sense was reinforced by a successful 3-on-5 penalty kill in the first period, no mean feat against a powerful Ufa offense dominated by consistently high scorers such as Hartikainen and Omark.

While chasing the game, the Dragons gave a genuine battle. Even if Salavat Yulaev was able to generate more offensive possession, the visitor was unable to get ahead on the shot count. Again, the solid work from our defense takes credit for this, while our forwards’ willingness to shoot whenever the opportunity presents itself, to get pucks to the net and make the opposition goalie work, also shows great promise for the future.

Today though, it wasn’t quite enough. In the third period, despite Red Star firing in 17 shots, Metsola held firm. The Finnish goalie was voted best in the KHL last season and today’s 36-save shut-out demonstrated just why. Calm and competent at all times, he produced the big stops to deny Cory Kane and Spencer Foo as Kunlun probed for a tying goal. Then came the sucker punch. A too many men penalty gave Salavat Yulaev the initiative and Maxim Mayorov batted home the 2-0 goal after the puck pinballed around in front of Hrubec’s net. Tempers frayed in the aftermath of the goal and the Dragons’ wings were decisively clipped a couple of minutes later when Andrej Sustr was ejected from the game for clattering Linus Omark in an after-the-whistle incident. The loss of our experienced Czech defenseman was trouble enough, the task of recovering a two-goal deficit while killing a major penalty was too much to take on.

Thus, our first games of the season brought a win and a loss. On the face of it, a slightly frustrating outcome. But let’s not forget that Salavat Yulaev was one of last season’s strongest teams, making it all the way to the Conference Final and handing us a couple of heavy defeats along the way. Producing two competitive performances this time around – and collecting a first win of the season to boot – represents an encouraging foundation for the future.

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