4 October 2020
Dynamo Moscow 6 Kunlun Red Star 3
If your glass is, by nature, half empty, you’d be forgiven for interpreting this as another heavy loss. Here, though, we prefer to see the glass half full. And, despite the gap between these teams, it’s fair to say that without a major penalty in the third period that brought three Dynamo goals, this game might easily have been a tie as the Dragons battled bravely once again.
Sunday’s roster brought more changes. For the first time this season we could name eight defensemen – a rare luxury – with Denis Osipov, Ruslan Pedan, Lev Starikov and Viktor Baldayev all returning to action. Up front, there were two brand new signings, young Russian prospects looking to test themselves in the men’s game. Alexei Toropchenko, 21, brings some experience of the senior game: last season saw him debut in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage after signing with the St. Louis Blues. He went into the second line with Alexei Kruchinin and Ivan Nikolishin. Ironically, Toropchenko’s first KHL appearance came against the Dynamo organization he represented in junior hockey before crossing the Atlantic in 2017.
Our second debutant, Andrei Bakanov, 18, played last season with Guelp Storm of the OHL, the same major junior set-up that Toropchenko joined after leaving Russia. Bakanov also has a gold medal from the U17 WHC in 2018/19 and is eligible for next week’s NHL draft. He joined another draft prospect, German Shaporev, on our fourth line.
The opening stages of the game saw the Dragons working hard to shut down Dynamo’s offense. Many have noted this season that silencing the Blue-and-Whites’ top line can cut off the supply of goals for Vladimir Krikunov’s team, and our guys were going all out to limit scoring opportunities. Thirteen blocked shots in the first period alone is tribute to the work rate.
However, they say that on home ice even the walls help – and the opening goal proved the point. There was little danger when Oscar Lindberg’s dump and chase looked to be heading behind the net where Simon Hrubec was waiting to mop up the latest Blue-and-White attack. But a treacherous rebound off the boards left out goalie stranded as the puck bounced to Teemu Pulkkinen. The Finn had a simple task to shoot into an empty net, converting his team’s power play and undermining the hard work our guys put in from the start of this game.
From that point on, it was always going to be a big ask to get back into the game. The second period saw Dynamo tighten its grip on proceedings. Dmitrij Jaskin’s short-handed goal extended the home lead and Pulkkinen got his second after Hrubec was pulled out of position to deny Lindberg and the puck bounced back to present the Finn with his second gift-wrapped opportunity of game. Hrubec also pulled out another highlight reel save to deny Vyacheslav Kulyomin.
Our offense generated rather less, but Ethan Werek dinged one off the piping late in the second period to remind everyone that this was still a game. Then the first play of the third period saw us on the scoreboard at last. Gleb Zyryanov, making his 100th KHL appearance, celebrated the occasion by surging into the Dynamo zone and using his size to hold off Michal Cajkovsky and reach past Ivan Bocharov to force home the rebound from his own initial effort. The goal was scored at 40:08 tying the club record for the fastest strike at the start of a period set by Tyler Wong in a game against Salavat Yulaev on Sep. 17th, 2019.
However, there would be no grand fightback. Toropchenko’s big day ended abruptly when he was ejected from the game for kneeing in the 45th minute. Dynamo turned that major penalty into three goals: Daniil Tarasov got the first, there was a second of the game for Jaskin and Pulkkinen completed his hat-trick as the home team moved the scoreline towards ‘emphatic’.
There was, at least, some late consolation. A power play chance in the closing minutes saw Jason Fram score our second goal of the game, stuffing in the rebound after Ivan Nikolishin’s shot danced around the crease. Then, in an echo of our early games this season, Werek scored a third in the last second. That’s three times now that the Dragons have tallied a goal as the clock showed 59:59; whatever this team’s weaknesses, nobody can deny we fight to the very last.