Moscow to Minsk, via Chelyabinsk

3 October 2020

The Dragons are back on the road, with four games in little over a week. This time we have a somewhat circuitous route, as games in Moscow sandwich trips to Traktor and Dinamo Minsk. One of the consolations of our temporary relocation to Mytishchi is that these journeys are far less gruelling – the games at Dynamo and Spartak can be treated as day trips rather than excursions.

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Dynamo Moscow (Oct. 4)

Last season: The Dragons were unable to beat Dynamo last season, going down 0-2 in Moscow and 1-2 in Beijing. Adam Cracknell was our only goalscorer.

Familiar faces: Head coach Alexei Kovalev began his pro career with the Blue-and-Whites, making his debut in the Soviet top flight with Dynamo back in 1989/90. This will be his first meeting with his old club as a head coach. His assistant, Slava Kozlov, also had a brief spell with Dynamo towards the end of his career, playing under Oleg Znarok in 2011/12.

Background: Historically, Dynamo has been a tough nut for us to crack. We’ve never beaten the Blue-and-Whites, and only once, in Nov. 2017, did we take the game beyond regulation. But Dynamo’s current team has its problems. Sure, the Shipachyov line is the most potent in the KHL right now and can blow away any team. But the rest of the roster is struggling to keep up – neutralize the first line, stay out of the box, and it’s possible to frustrate this team. Sunday’s opponent has been in streaky form this season and, with two straight losses going into the game, currently looks to be on a losing run again.

 

Traktor Chelyabinsk (Oct. 7)

Last time out: We’ve been here before. Our trip to Chelyabinsk on Sep. 6 brought a debut for German Shaporev as we went down to a 1-3 loss.

Familiar faces: Our rush of summer signings included several former Traktor men. Alexei Kruchinin has made the biggest impact so far, with five appearances and a goal in our 4-5 loss at Sibir.

Background: In the past, Traktor has been a direct rival for a playoff place. This season, of course, the making the top eight looks like a huge task for the Dragons – with all the challenges we faced in the summer, simply getting a team on the ice remains a big win for us. Traktor, meanwhile, is showing signs of getting back to post season. Anvar Gatiyatulin’s team is currently eighth in the East, boosted by back-to-back wins at Sochi and Dynamo. The upswing in form coincides with the club’s foreign legion raising its game: Nick Bailen, Lukas Sedlak and Tomas Hyka are the leading scorers in recent games.

 

Dinamo Minsk (Oct. 9)

Last season: Two games against the Belarusians last season brought two wins. At home, goals from Brandon Yip and Devante Smith-Pelly gave the Dragons a Christmas present on Dec. 25, then in Minsk we powered to a 5-1 win with Luke Lockhart, Tyler Wong and Hunter Shinkaruk among the scorers.

Familiar faces: Among our players, forward Alexander Kitarov and defenseman Denis Osipov both featured for the Belarusians in the past. And assistant coach Igor Ulanov finished his playing career in Minsk, making 36 appearances in the KHL’s debut season.

Background: Nobody expected this kind of a start to the season in Minsk. After finishing rock bottom of the KHL standings with just 39 points from 62 games, Dinamo needed to think again. The new-look roster, still under the charge of Craig Woodcroft, is greatly improved and sits third in the West at the time of writing. The return of Rob Klinkhammer gives the offense a big boost, the signing of Czech goalie Dominik Furch added stability to the rearguard and there’s a sense that the whole roster is buying into Woodcroft’s attacking philosophy. We can expect goals at both ends here – Minsk leads the Western Conference for goals scored, but has allowed more than everyone except Spartak.

 

Spartak (Oct. 12)

Last time out: Our games with Spartak were high-scoring affairs last term. In Beijing, an overtime winner from Trevor Murphy snapped a 3-3 tie in early December. Murphy was on the scoresheet in Moscow as well, with Luke Lockhart scoring two and Tyler Wong adding a fourth in a 4-7 loss.

Familiar faces: We’ll be renewing acquaintance with Slovak forward Martin Bakos, who scored 12 goals for us in our first KHL campaign. Among our squad, Slava Kozlov’s coaching career began with Spartak, where he worked as an assistant from 2015-2016. He also played for the club in the KHL. Igor Ulanov, meanwhile, joined our coaching staff directly from the Red-and-Whites, where he spent the last two seasons.

Background: If expectations in Minsk are rising, back in Moscow, Spartak is struggling to live up to its billing. A second season under Oleg Znarok was due to see the Red-and-Whites become a genuine contender in the West but things are not going to plan. Pre-season was disrupted by illness, and a roster still catching up to full fitness will inevitably struggle to deliver Znarok’s high-energy brand of hockey. Neither Nikita Bespalov nor Julius Hudacek has been at his best in goal, and high-profile summer signing Sergei Shirokov has yet to have the hoped-for impact. That said, this team has plenty of offensive potential: in its last two games, both Moscow derbies, it beat Dynamo 5-4 before losing to CSKA by the same scoreline.

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