5 December 2020 KHL, Kunlun Red Star, Neftekhimik, preview, Sochi, Torpedo
The Dragons’ December began with a battling performance at CSKA that saw our guys take an unexpected point off the league leader thanks to a 2-2 tie in regulation. Now the action continues with a home game against a striker on a red hot streak – Torpedo’s Damir Zhafyarov, looking to extend his productive run to 10 games. Saturday’s game is followed by a road trip to two opponents struggling at the foot of their respective conferences.
Torpedo (home, Dec. 5)
Last time out: Our last trip to Torpedo was a frustrating one, with home goalie Nikita Serebryakov making 38 saves as we lost 0-2. Earlier this season in Mytishchi, though, Alexei Toropchenko potted his first goal in the KHL to help us to a 3-1 victory. Hunter Shinkaruk and Ivan Nikolishin were also on target that day.
Familiar faces: Two of our D-men have also played for Torpedo. Sam Lofquist got his first taste of KHL action in Nizhny Novgorod back in 2016/17. Viktor Baldayev played seven games for the club in 2017/18.
Background: Torpedo arrives on the back of a run of strong form – and Damir Zhafyarov is leading the charge. The 26-year-old forward is looking to extend a nine-game productive streak that has brought him seven goals and five assists. He also opened the scoring in that 2-0 win over Red Star last month. That scoring form has lifted David Nemirovsky’s team to four wins in its last five, a vital sequence in its battle for a playoff place. Torpedo is currently seventh in the East, one point ahead of Sibir and five points better than Barys, although the Kazakhs have four games in hand. Zhafyarov isn’t the only man in form. Youngster Ivan Chekhovich, in his first season of KHL action, is also making a name for himself. He’s picked up 12 (5+7) in 15 games so far.
Neftekhimik (away, Dec. 7)
Last time out: The Dragons visited Nizhnekamsk a month ago and suffered a 3-6 loss, despite taking the lead through an early goal from Ryan Sproul. That followed a tough 3-4 reverse in Mytishchi earlier in the season.
Familiar faces: Andrei Kostitsyn, 13 points in 22 games for Red Star in 2017/18, was among the Neftekhimik scorers in that 3-6 loss in November. Defenseman Mikhail Sidorov, who made a handful of appearances for us early in the season, has since established himself as a regular on Neftekhimik’s blue line.
Background: Vyacheslav Butsayev’s team, like ourselves, is already some way adrift of the race for the playoffs. And, like ourselves, Neftekhimik has struggled throughout the season with a roster that changes almost from game to game. Illness and injury deprived our host of key players at various times and there isn’t enough depth at the club to compensate. As a result, there have been some heavy losses in recent games – a 1-6 reverse at home to Tatarstan neighbor Ak Bars and a 1-5 defeat by a resurgent Magnitogorsk made it a miserable start to December. The problem lies in the defense – with 118 goals allowed thus far, Neftekhimik has been scored on substantially more than any other team in the KHL. However, a 5-3 win at home to high-flying Traktor on Nov. 29 shows that Neftekhimik can still be a dangerous opponent.
HC Sochi (away, Dec. 9)
Last season: We faced the Leopards twice last fall. David Bondra scored his first KRS goal in a 3-2 win at home, but we suffered a 0-2 loss beside the Black Sea.
Familiar faces: Our forwards Sean Collins and Casey Wellman include Sochi among their former KHL teams. Sean spent three seasons there while Casey played in 2017/18 and two of his 10 goals for the Leopards were scored on Red Star. Now might be a good time to start cancelling those out. And goalie Dmitry Shikin spent the bulk of his career at Russia’s Olympic city, making 126 appearances for the club after joining in 2015. Slava Leshchenko also had a brief spell with Sochi, playing 15 games there last season and scoring twice.
Background: Sochi is enduring a difficult season in the Western Conference. The team from sunny Black Sea coast has not really shone at any stage in the campaign. A sluggish start prompted the dismissal of head coach Alexander Andrievsky and brought Evgeny Stavrovsky to the club from Severstal. This move was a calculated risk – Stavrovsky had no significant experience of life as a head coach, although his work as assistant to Andrei Razin in Cherepovets earned him respect. So far, though, he has found things difficult, winning just two games and both of those against rock bottom Dinamo Riga. The recent departure of leading forward Malte Stromwall to SKA merely adds to the Leopards’ problems. This meeting starts a three-game home stand for Sochi and our opponent will surely be looking to make this a turning point in the season. The player to watch is leading scorer Sergei Shmelyov, who has 4 (3+1) points in his last five games.