Targeting the top eight - Kunlun Red Star

Targeting the top eight

6 December 2019

The international break beckons, but with two games to go before the pause Red Star is all about forcing its way into that all-important top eight. In an incredibly tight Eastern Conference, a couple of wins can make all the difference. The Dragons are on a three-game hot streak right now and if that extends through the upcoming pair of road games, Curt Fraser’s team will equal its club record winning run. It will also be well set to occupy a playoff spot with the season more than halfway through.

 

Admiral (Dec. 7)

Last time out: Our first meeting this season ended in a 1-2 loss in Vladivostok on Oct. 5. Former Dragon Martin Bakos opened the scoring for Admiral, Denis Osipov got his first point for Red Star with an assist on Ethan Werek’s goal.

Familiar faces: As mentioned, Slovak forward Bakos is a former Red Star player. And our defenseman Osipov spent two and a half seasons with the Sailors, playing 127 games for 24 (4+20) points.

Background: This is a meeting of two evenly matched foes. Ahead of Saturday’s game, just two points separate the teams in the Eastern Conference standings and both are fully embroiled in an incredibly tight race for a top eight finish in the section this season. Incredibly, just three points separate six teams on either side of the post-season cut-off point; at the time of writing Admiral is just above the waterline while Red Star is rising fast. The Dragons go to Vladivostok on the back of a three-game winning streak – and having taken at least a point from the last four; Admiral’s win at home to Vityaz on Friday halted a two-game skid for Sergei Svetlov’s men and brought the Sailor’s their first goals in two games.

It’s not just the league table that shows little to choose between us. Both teams have set record winning runs in the KHL this season, with Red Star putting together a five-game streak at the end of October while Admiral managed five successive victories of its own in the same month. The history books also suggest a close encounter: after 14 meetings between these two Far East rivals, both teams have won six each in regulation. Admiral has the tiniest of edges with a pair of shoot-out wins, but we’ve seen in recent weeks how the Dragons have raised their game when this season’s action has gone to overtime.

Victory in Vladivostok would lift Red Star back into the top eight – what better motivation for our guys?

 

Amur (Dec. 9)

Last time out: Our most recent visit to Khabarovsk ended in a 2-3 loss back in October. Goals from Tyler Wong and Cory Kane saw the Dragons fight back from 0-2 down, but Tomas Zohorna potted the decider.

Familiar faces: Czech defenseman Ondrej Vitasek joined Amur in the summer after playing the 2018/19 season with Red Star. He made 43 appearances and had 16 (3+13) points. Igor Velichkin is another ex-Dragon on Amur’s books. The forward had 4 (1+3) points in our debut season but has made sporadic appearances this season in Khabarovsk.

Background: Games against Amur could be summed up as a case of ‘Crouching Tigers, Hidden Dragons’: in 14 meetings, the Amur Tigers have been poised for victory on 10 occasions; our Dragons’ meager quartet of successes suggests that the best of our play has been sadly hidden on visits to Khabarovsk. Indeed, you have to go back almost a whole year for our last victory against this opponent, a 3-1 verdict in Shanghai last December. That win had a Finnish accent, with goals from Olli Palola, Ville Lajunen and Joonas Jarvinen making the difference.

This season, though, there is cause for confidence – albeit tempered with caution. Amur has spent much of the season at the foot of the Eastern Conference, unable to recover from a nine-game losing streak at the start of the season. However, closer attention proves that this is not a team of no-hopers. Each of those early losses was by a single goal and that has generally been the case during the season. Moreover, when Amur gets its game together, it’s a dangerous opponent – just ask Spartak, beaten 5-0 here last Saturday.

This season’s scoring is led by Czech brothers Tomas and Hynek Zohorna. Next on the list are local twins Vladislav and Vyacheslav Ushenin. Tomas and Vladislav also have a track record of scoring against Red Star, sharing 17 points between them in our previous encounters. Going the other way, Brandon Yip’s 6 (3+3) points against Amur make him the most productive Dragon in this battle across the Sino-Russian border.  

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