A last-minute goal saw Kunlun snatch a point from a thrilling game in Mytishchi, but in-form Torpedo forward Damir Zhafyarov proved to be the difference between the teams with a goal and three assists.
The Dragons went into this game with not one, but two new signings. The return of Sean Collins to Red Star was widely known and the Canadian forward made his second Kunlun debut alongside Luke Lockhart and Spencer Foo on the second line. But there was also a first appearance for defenseman Alexander Yevseyenkov, just arrived on a try-out contract. The 35-year-old has more than 500 games in the KHL, starting with three seasons at today’s opponent, Torpedo. More recently he played for Neftekhimik, Severstal and Vityaz – and can take pride in reaching the playoffs with each of these relatively unfancied KHL teams.
Boosted by those new faces, Red Star made its best start to a game this season. Within 90 seconds, Lockhart opened the scoring. Our captain intercepted as Torpedo tried to clear its lines and moved forward to place a shot past Alexei Melnichuk. After six minutes, Alexei Toropchenko made it 2-0. Much of the heavy lifting came from Slava Leshchenko’s rush and after Melnichuk lost track of the puck, Alexei pounced for his sixth goal of the season.
After that, though, things began to go wrong. Before today’s game, there was much talk of Zhafyarov’s red-hot streak. The 26-year-old, a contender for Russia’s national team, had points in each of his last nine games. He made it 10 after the Dragons struggled to get the puck away from a face-off; Zhafyarov beat Jeremy Smith at the second attempt.
Then came a disastrous start to the second period, with Torpedo scoring three quick goals. It began with penalty trouble, and Chris Wideman firing home a one-timer during a 5-on-3 power play. Then Zhafyarov set up Andy Miele to make it 3-2 and, just a minute later, Justin Kloos added a fourth.
The Dragons needed a lifeline fast and visiting defenseman Mark Marin unwillingly supplied it. He was caught in possession on his own blue line and responded by hauling down the goalbound Hunter Shinkaruk. The ref awarded a penalty shot, and Hunter picked himself up to produce a clinical top-shelf finish and give us every hope of saving the game in the third. Those hopes were enhanced by a couple of early penalties on Torpedo, but the visiting defense did a good job of limiting opportunities to score and time was starting to run out. Late in the game, another penalty for Torpedo set up one last chance: a time out, a switch to six-on-four hockey and, with a minute left to play, a game-saving goal. Red Star crowded in front of Melnichuk’s net, Shinkaruk’s pass picked the lock and Ethan Werek scored from close range to take us into overtime.
Unfortunately, that was as good as it got. The extras ended with Torpedo claiming the verdict and Zhafyarov was heavily involved again. Throughout the game, his willingness to test our defense, skating with the puck at high speed, caused problems; in the final play of the night he got deep into the danger zone once more before feeding Andy Miele in the slot for the winning goal.