A roller-coaster of a game in Russia’s premier holiday resort saw the Dragons move off the foot of the Eastern Conference table. Victory in Sochi made it back-to-back wins for the first time since October and lifted our team above Neftekhimik. It was a satisfying return for our former Sochi players, and a memorable night for recent signing Gleb Shashkov. He got a goal and an assist to record his first points for the club since joining from Spartak.
Sochi is familiar territory for Wednesday’s starting goalie, Dmitry Shikin. He spent several seasons beside the Black Sea, establishing himself as a regular starter in the KHL. Today was his first return since leaving the Leopards, and his old colleagues wasted little time in testing the netminder’s reflexes with a flurry of shots in the opening moments.
However, the first big chance came at the other end when Jason Fram’s point shot got a touch from Spencer Foo but flew straight to Maxim Tretiak in the home net. And that was the theme of the first 10 minutes or so, with both teams threatening but neither creating truly unmissable opportunities.
That changed when Ethan Werek was handed the first penalty of the game and Sochi scored on the power play through Ivan Volodin. The former SKA man marked his Sochi debut with a goal from close range. A couple of minutes later, the lead was doubled by Vasily Glotov, another played who swapped Petersburg for Sochi this season.
The first period ended 0-2, but the second began with a great chance to get back into the game after Nikita Feoktistov was called for diving. And, straight from the restart, Red Star got on the scoreboard. Ethan Werek won the face-off and worked a combination with Slava Leshchenko and Ryan Sproul at the point. The latter fired in a shot that was steered into the net by Luke Lockhart on the slot. The very next shift made it 2-2. Gleb Shashkov surged down the left channel and his no-look feed set up Werek for the tying goal – and took his productive streak to five games. Two goals in 15 seconds made the game look completely different.
And the day kept getting better. More penalty trouble for Sochi gave us a 5-on-3 advantage and Sproul set up Casey Wellman to make it 3-2 with a meaty one-timer from the left-hand dot. Wellman, like Shikin, also played for Sochi before joining the Dragons.
However, a game that see-saws one way can quickly tip back in the other direction. After Sochi successfully killed a major penalty – Volodin’s debut ended early when he was ejected for checking from behind – the home team got a boost. And when Jason Fram went to the box, the momentum of the game changed. Red Star survived the penalty but had no answer 30 seconds after returning to full strength when Daniil Miromanov tied us up at 3-3.
The third period began a little more cautiously, with both teams well aware that any mistake could have a high price. The Dragons got a great chance to regain the lead with Sochi fluffed a line change and received a bench minor, but the power play did not generate its third goal of the evening. However, rather than capitalize on the errors of others, our guys went out to win it on their own merit. Shashkov, who already collected his first KHL point with an assist on Werek’s goal, followed up with his first goal in the competition. Another rush, another behind the back pass to Werek and this time the former Spartak man finished the play himself after Maxim Tretyak blocked the initial shot.
There was every chance of a nervous finish when Alexei Toropchenko took a penalty late in the game. The Leopards looked to take maximum advantage, withdrawing Tretyak and trying to force a 6-on-4 power play. However, there was a little too much enthusiasm – or maybe desperation? – in the home team’s play and Igor Rudenkov followed Toropchenko to the sidelines. The pressure was eased, and Red Star saw out the win.