Games between these two teams mean goals. For the second time this season, the Dragons shared nine with the team from Tatarstan and, across our three meetings so far, we’ve seen 25 pucks hit the net. Frustratingly, the first two games ended in defeat for Red Star; the guys arrived in Nizhnekamsk determined to put the record straight and close the gap on the team directly ahead of us in the Conference standings.
Monday’s game also brought a welcome return to action for Jason Fram, back on the team for the first time since Oct. 28. Jason’s last appearance came in our only previous road win, up at SKA, and he proved to be something of a lucky omen here.
The opening goal owed much to another player returning to the Red Star jersey. Sean Collins made his second debut for the club on Saturday and today he got his first point in our colors since 2017. Sean assisted on Ethan Werek’s opening goal; his shot was blocked and Ethan pounced on the rebound to make it 1-0 in the 15th minute. That took Werek’s productive streak to four games – and there would be more to come from him.
Before that, though, we had a case of the jitters. Neftekhimik, roused by falling behind, scored twice at the end of the first period to take an ill-deserved lead into the intermission. Alexei Volgin and Otso Rantakari were the scorers.
The second period started with a frenzy of action. Spencer Foo’s wrister tied the scores after just 18 seconds, but Neftekhimik hit back immediately when Timur Khafizov made it 3-2. In the past, that kind of reversal of fortune has taken its toll on the Dragons’ confidence, but today was a different story. For much of the game our guys had demonstrated that they could get the better of the opposition, and Neftekhimik’s well-documented defensive frailties ensured there was always a chance for any team that stuck to its game plan and pressed the home side. That’s what Red Star did, and the rewards soon followed. Tyler Wong levelled the scores midway through the game with a laser-like wrist shot that would grace any encounter. Werek had an assist on that one, and his four-game productive streak was soon matched by Hunter Shinkaruk. Our Canadian forward moved on to 19 (8+11) points for the season when his one-timer swept a Foo feed into the net. Shinkaruk is two points clear of Werek in the club scoring race, which promises to be a hotly-contested affair this season.
Leading 4-3 at the start of the third, the message was to keep it tight and let the clock play for us. But few plans survive first contact with the enemy, and within a minute of restart Neftekhimik was celebrating a short-handed goal from Libor Hudacek to tie the game at four. Happily, Ethan had other plans for the end of this game. His deft redirect of Ruslan Pedan’s point shot took the puck away from Evgeny Ivannikov and into the home net. And this time, Neftekhimik had no answer. Red Star closed out the win and now sits just one point behind today’s opponent in the Eastern Conference. The first chance to bridge that gap is on Wednesday with a visit to HC Sochi.