Anticipating the Avangard

28 November 2019

Our latest road trip brought just one win from three tough games, although it would have been no travesty if the Dragons had taken something from a tight 0-1 loss at Salavat Yulaev. Now, the guys are back in Beijing for a four-game home stand against an Eastern Conference high-flyer and two teams enjoying improved form in the West. There’s good news from the treatment room as well, where club captain Brandon Yip is off the injured list and could return to the team for the first time since the victory at Vityaz on Oct. 27.

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Avangard (Nov. 28 and Nov. 30)

Last time out: Our 3-0 win in Balashikha was one of the highlights of the season so far, with a shut-out for Jeremy Smith and two goals from Jason Fram leading the team to a memorable victory. And, of course, Avangard’s last trip to China ended well for the Dragons with a 5-2 win at the end of January.

Familiar faces: Taylor Beck lines up against his former Red Star team-mates once again. Since moving to Avangard, the forward has twice finished on the losing side against Kunlun.

Background: After waiting so long to get a win against Avangard, recent meetings have been far more encouraging for the Dragons. A 5-2 win at home at the end of last season snapped that losing streak and our two encounters this time around have seen one victory apiece. Once again, an opponent that was out of reach for many years no longer holds any fear for our guys. These two games will determine this season’s bragging rights against our Chernyshev Division rival.

That said, Bob Hartley’s team is never an easy proposition. Gagarin Cup finalists last year, the Hawks are flying high in the Eastern Conference once again. Despite some significant injury problems – Alexei Emelin and Maxim Chudinov are currently unavailable on the blue line, forward Sergei Shirokov missed more than a month – Avangard keeps rolling out the results. Slava Voynov is a stand-out performer and has six assists from the last five games. Sergei Shumakov often poses a threat in these fixtures: in his Avangard career he’s put up 7 (2+5) points against Red Star.


Vityaz (Dec. 2)

Last time out: A 4-2 win in Podolsk in October formed part of our club record five-game winning streak this season and also gives the Dragons a 4-3 lead in the all-time series between these two teams. Andrew Miller’s hat-trick was the highlight of that game and makes the American our leading goalscorer in games against the team from Podolsk. Not bad, considering he’s only played one of them.

Familiar faces: The game brings Ville Lajunen back to China, where he had a productive time on our blue line last season. Forward Olli Palola, back on the goal trail at Neftekhimik during our last road trip, faces his first KHL club.

Background: At the start of the season, Vityaz was the name on everyone’s lips. A fast start, a 10-game winning streak and, briefly, a spell at the top of the KHL table made Mikhail Kravets’ team into the dark horses of the season. Since then, though, things have slowed. The Moscow Region team is typically on the fringes of the battle for a playoff spot and its results since September have suggested that this season may yet follow that familiar template.

However, it would be wrong to discount this team altogether. A recent game against CSKA saw Vityaz take the defending champ to overtime, a convincing win over Dinamo Riga reminded everyone that there’s still some firepower to bring forward. While the departures of Artyom Shvets-Rogovoi and Alexander Samonov to SKA have slowed the team, players like Miro Aaltonen and Alexander Semin pose a threat in any game. This match-up should be an intriguing – and highly winnable – clash.


Spartak (Dec. 4)

Last season: Both meetings last season ended in wins for the visitor. The Dragons won 2-1 in Moscow in September thanks to goals from Ville Lajunen and Olli Palola but lost 0-2 on home ice a couple of months later. After six meetings in the KHL, both teams have three wins.

Familiar faces: Former Red Star defenseman Tobias Viklund is now at Spartak, but he is currently on the injured list.

Background: The 2018 Olympics was a big event for Red Star, with Gilbert Brule and Wojtek Wolski collecting bronze medals in PyeongChang in a season that saw them both playing for the Dragons. And it was also the highlight of Spartak head coach Oleg Znarok’s career. The three-time Gagarin Cup winner added Olympic gold to his glittering CV after a dramatic win over Germany in the gold-medal game. Whatever your thoughts about the absence of the NHLers in Korea, there was no argument about the compelling drama that unfolded during the tournament.

Znarok then took a one-year sabbatical before returning to the KHL with Spartak. After so much success with Dynamo and SKA, this move felt like a return to the coach’s roots with MVD, an outsider that punched well above its weight to reach the second Gagarin Cup final. Once again, diligent team building is paying off: Spartak isn’t the most stellar roster in the league, but Znarok has a team that plays to its strengths and is comfortably placed in the Western Conference. On occasion, it can blow the opposition away – witness a recent 7-2 win at home to Dinamo Minsk – although there are still some weaknesses, as evidenced when allowing nine goals against CSKA. Latvian forward Kaspars Daugavins is something of a firework on this team, while defenseman Patrik Hersley – a champion under Znarok at SKA – brings a formidable shot from the point.

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