Winning start in St. Petersburg

25 August 2020

HC Sochi 1 Kunlun Red Star 2

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The Dragons were back on the ice for only the second time this summer – and Alexei Kovalev and his team could celebrate a first victory at the Puchkov Tournament in St. Petersburg. Two power play goals were enough to defeat HC Sochi, and put Red Star level with Avangard at the end of the first day’s play.

Both these teams have faced challenges in pre-season. Sochi had to pull out of its own tournament at the start of the month after a flurry of positive COVID tests, while Red Star has been more preoccupied with paperwork and relocation than building a team under new head coach Kovalev.

The Dragons currently have an all-Russian roster, liberally stocked with triallists, and included a host of players who had previously represented Sochi – including goalie Dmitry Shikin, defenseman Ruslan Pedan and forwards Yegor Dugin and Ilya Krikunov.

This time, though, Dugin and Krikunov were angling for a job in the coming season and did their cause no harm when they combined for Dmitry Markovin, late of Severstal, to rifle home the opening goal from the right-hand circle late in the first period.

That was a deserved reward for a Red Star team that worked hard throughout the game, eager to prove its worth with contracts at stake. Earlier, Viktor Shakhvorostov saw a good chance go begging when he delayed his shot too long in front of goal, while Sochi’s Maxim Tretyak was also tested by an early point shot from Viktor Baldayev.

However, Sochi’s players also had plenty to play for. Despite naming a roster with four imports and several established members of the team, there was room for several youngsters to stake a claim – and early in the second period Pavel Kukshtel did exactly that, taking advantage of ample space on the slot to produce a neat finish from Daniil Ogirchuk’s pass.

There was another good chance for Sochi soon after, but Finnish import Jere Karjalainen ran into the sizeable frame of Lev Starikov on the slot and was unable to get a meaningful shot at Shikin. The former Sochi netminder was kept busy when his team was on the receiving end of a 5-on-3 situation for more than 90 seconds; Sochi hammered on the door but Shikin repeatedly said ‘no’ – most impressively to deny Daniil Apalkov from point-blank range – as the Dragons killed the penalties and returned to full strength without allowing another goal.

And it wasn’t just the Dragons’ PK that worked well. Midway through the third period a second power play goal of the game restored the Red Star lead. Sergei Monakhov was the scorer, converting Ivan Nikolishin’s feed to wrap up a nice bit of tic-tac-toe through the Sochi zone.

There was still work for Shikin to do to preserve that lead, a sprawling save under pressure soon after the goal kept Sochi at bay. Then, late in the game, Pedan took a penalty to give the Leopards once last chance to pounce. A minute of 4-on-6 defense tested our guys, but they stood firm. Sochi’s best chance fell to Karjalainen, who fanned his shot, and the Dragons held on for a first win of the summer.

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