26 August 2020
SKA St. Petersburg 2 Kunlun Red Star 0
After a winning start to the Puchkov tournament against Sochi yesterday, Tuesday’s game with host club SKA promised a much sterner test. After all, there’s more to hockey than a pure will to win – vital as that is for any team – and SKA’s players boast the kind of top-level mastery that makes them a formidable test, regardless of the roster on display.
So, while it’s true that Valery Bragin chose to rest several big name players – not least our old friend Magnus Hellberg, last seen racing at the Sochi Autodrome – it would be unreasonable to suggest that this was a below-strength opponent. After all, we were lining up against an assortment of Gagarin Cup winners, players with top-level international experience and a clutch of youngsters who already look like shaping the next generation of Russian hockey. Hardly ‘weak’ opposition, then.
For our part, it was a roster similar to last night. With relatively few players to call upon, it’s inevitable that there will be a lot of work for some of our guys – and thus, every opportunity to make themselves indispensable to head coach Kovalev and his colleagues. However, the player with the best chance to impress proved to be goalie Dmitry Shikin. SKA put on the pressure from the start, and it took some staunch defense to kill the first penalty of the game midway through the opening frame. But the fact that it was goalless at the first intermission wasn’t only down to our goalie: the Dragons were limited to a handful of scoring chances, but Sergei Monakhov’s attempt to deke his way around the net forced a smart save from Yaroslav Askarov on the wraparound.
The breakthrough came early in the second, with Linden Vey tapping home the rebound from a Yaroslav Dyblenko shot. But that did not open the floodgates. Red Star remained resolute in defense and finished the middle frame on the front foot. Ivan Nikolishin fired in a testing shot from between the hashmarks, Monakhov was close to redirecting one beyond Askarov and, despite absorbing a lot of pressure, the Dragons showed they were very much in the game.
When Kunlun got its first power play early in the third period, there was hope that the momentum might tip our way. Instead, though, a penalty on Ruslan Pedan wiped out the advantage and, when SKA got back to full strength, the home team added a second goal. Igor Ozhiganov found space in the deep slot to fire home a power play goal and, from that point on, it was hard to see a way back for us.
Defensively, we remained resilient – even a minute of 3-on-5 could not yield a third goal for SKA – but scoring chances were hard to come by at the other end. It’s a game from which our guys can and will learn a lot, and with a rest day on Wednesday there’s time to apply some of those lessons in training before returning to action against Torpedo.