31 October 2020
Barys Nur-Sultan 2 Kunlun Red Star 1
Ivan Nikolishin scored his fifth goal of the season becoming clear of the team’s sniper race. He is now one ahead of our captain Luke Lockhart who was also involved in the Dragon’s only productive move of the night in Nur-Sultan.
Perhaps for the first time this season, the Dragons went into a game as the form team. Buoyed by a run of four wins in five games – and with some impressive scalps taken along the way – Red Star faced a Barys team struggling with a difficult run. Indeed, the Kazakhs had not enjoyed a victory in regulation since our previous meeting way back in Sep. 10. Back then, Barys was a huge odds-on favorite for victory; today the bookmakers were decidedly more even-handed about the possible outcome.
On the way to Nur-Sultan the club secured another new signing. Igor Larionov Jr, who got his first point in the KHL during Wednesday’s 2-1 win at SKA, upgraded his try-out contract into a fully-fledged one-year deal. He retained his place in the team, lining up alongside Sergei Monakhov and Ivan Nikolishin on our fourth line. On defense, there was a change with Andrej Sustr returning in place of Jason Fram. Tyler Wong moved up to the first line in place of Danny Kristo, and Parker Foo joined his brother on line two as the American forward sat this one out.
Befitting a team full of confidence, Red Star made a fast start to this game and had much the better of the early exchanges. Had Ethan Werek steered his shot on target when well placed in the opening stages, the whole evening might have been very different. As it was, Barys soaked up that pressure and hit back with a well-worked goal from Jakob Lilja on the breakaway.
Then came the horror show as Hallowe’en approaches. In our eagerness to get back into the game, Red Star ran into penalty trouble. Spencer Foo was ejected from the game for spearing and, simultaneously, Cory Kane took a minor. That meant two minutes of 3-on-5 hockey and a full five minutes on the PK. Even against a team that hadn’t scored a power play goal in its last five games, this was a tall order.
The Dragons set about the task manfully, surviving two minutes with a double shortage. But the strain of spending so long at a disadvantage eventually took its toll and Matt Frattin forced home a rebound to double the home lead. It was hardly a fair reflection of the opening frame, but we went to the intermission two goals behind.
However, those recent Barys frailties always promised a chance of recovery. At the start of the second period, Curtis Valk needlessly tangled with Luke Lockhart and the power play opened a path back into the game. Larionov was involved again, finding Lockhart behind the net from where our captain picked out Nikolishin for his fifth goal of the season. A one-goal game, and the battle was very much alive.
To give our host credit, it did not wobble at this point. Instead, helped by several power plays, Barys seized the initiative in the middle frame and fired 20 shots at Simon Hrubec without adding to its goal tally. The third period was somewhat similar: 11-3 on shots, even though the teams had similar time on the attack. The Kazakh strategy of getting pucks to the net made for some lopsided stats but a combination of strong defense and some overly precise play from our forwards meant that the Dragons struggled to get good looks at Joni Ortio.
The last chance came when Kunlun got a power play with just over a minute to play. A final storm, 6-on-4, almost brought salvation. The puck dropped in front of Kane with the net at his mercy, but his shot skewed agonizingly wide of the target and Barys breathed again.
The campaign continues on Sunday against Salavat Yulaev.