A question of timing

12 February 2020

Sibir Novosibirsk 0 Kunlun Red Star 3

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Timing matters. With the regular season drawing to a close, and with just five games left in the campaign, Tuesday’s game in Novosibirsk felt like it might be crucial. After four losses going into the international break, the pressure was on the Dragons to recover their form and make sure of that playoff place. And there was unfinished business with a Sibir team that had won three times against Red Star this season; twice in shoot-outs, once by a single goal.

Then there was a milestone to celebrate. Victor Bartley made his 100th KHL appearance in this game and victory was the only fitting way to commemorate that achievement. So, there was plenty riding on the outcome here.

The first period saw Kunlun press Sibir hard without creating many scoring opportunities. Indeed, the best chance of the opening frame went to the home team when Jyrki Jokipakka’s superb pass was squandered by Alexander Sharov. Early in the second, the teams traded efforts against the post: first, Dmitry Sayustov rang the iron behind Simon Hrubec; later Andrew Miller was millimetres away from beating Harri Sateri.

That chance encouraged Red Star, and our guys stepped up their game. It wasn’t long before the deadlock was broken – and Tyler Wong was the man to do it. First, he forced a turnover in center ice. Then, he raced onto Spencer Foo’s return pass and burned into the Sibir zone, rifling home a wrister from between the hash marks to record his 15th goal and 31st point of the season. At the time, it made Wong our leading goalscorer of the season as well.

Sibir had a great chance to tie the game when Ryan Sproul was caught on the puck and Juuso Puustinen was gifted with great look at Hrubec. The Finn was unmarked in front of the net, but our Czech goalie stood up to his shot then beat away Mikael Ruohomaa’s effort on the rebound to preserve the lead. Later, Nikita Mikhailov carved out another good opportunity but could not beat Hrubec.

The Dragons made sure those misses were punished with two quick goals late in the middle stanza. Brandon Yip got the first. He began the play deep in Red Star territory, surged into the Sibir zone and dropped off the puck for Miller to shoot. That effort was saved, but Yip had moved into position to collect the rebound and make it 2-0. The goal takes the captain to 15 for the season, level with Wong on both goals and points.

Barely a minute later, Kunlun had a three-goal lead. Ethan Werek was the only player who showed much interest in chasing the puck into the corner and he got his reward when Devante Smith-Pelly collected his pass and fired a shot that was deflected home off a Sibir skate. Sateri left the game, replaced by Alexei Krasikov; Red Star prepared to close out the game in the final frame.

Admittedly, that 0-3 scoreline was not a foregone conclusion. Earlier this season, Red Star led by the same margin in Beijing, only to lose out 3-4 after a huge comeback from Sibir. This time, though, the team had learned its lessons. The defense was solid and disciplined – Kunlun did not take a single penalty in this game – and Sibir was unable to find a way to seriously test Hrubec. The best chance of the final stanza fell to our own Gunars Skvorcovs, who was denied by Krasikov. Hrubec finished with 28 saves and his second shut-out for the club.

Timing matters. On the occasion of a landmark appearance for one of the guys, the Dragons scorched to a vital win. After three narrow losses to the same opponent, Red Star got it right on the fourth occasion, when the stakes in terms of the playoff race were higher than ever. And, with our closest rivals for a top-eight finish waiting to play their games, Kunlun claimed the moral advantage of announcing their candidacy ever more loudly with a victory that snaps a losing skid … and just at the right time.

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