The Dragons take their improved recent form into a three-game home stand over the coming eight days. Despite the international break, the action continues for our guys, with a rearranged game against Barys slotted into the schedule. Boosted by back-to-back wins in our meetings with Neftekhimik and Sochi, confidence is high – but the upcoming opposition includes some of the strongest teams from the first half of the season, including the toughest PK in the KHL.
Dinamo Minsk (Dec. 13)
Last time out: Having beaten Dinamo twice last season, 2-1 in Beijing and 5-1 in Minsk, the Dragons put their foot off the gas and lost 0-2 in Belarus capital in October. But we are still ahead in the all-time head-to-head with five wins from nine meetings to date.
Familiar faces: Our D-man Denis Osipov joined Red Star from Dinamo Minsk, where he played 61 games from 2017-2019 and picked up four goals and eight assists.
Background: Dinamo Minsk’s turnaround is one of the talking points of 2020/21. Last season, the Belarusians were rock bottom, never in contention for a playoff place in the Western Conference. But, instead of getting rid of head coach Craig Woodcroft and starting over, the club kept faith with its team. Summer brought changes in personnel, but not in the overall philosophy: the team continues to blend promising local prospects with experienced imports. And loyalty is being rewarded with Dinamo looking well placed in the West. The return of Devils prospect Yegor Sharangovich on loan has been a big boost: he tops the form chart with 8 (3+5) points in his last five games and the 22-year-old has an impressive 25 (17+8) points from 33 appearances this season.
Barys Nur-Sultan (Dec. 19)
Last time out: We travelled twice to Nur-Sultan this season, and suffered two narrow losses, 2-3 in September and 1-2 in October.
Familiar faces: This game promises to reunite two team-mates from our debut KHL campaign, with Linus Videll lining up against Sean Collins. Videll is in good form for Barys, with 4 (1+3) points in his last five games; Sean, of course, recently rejoined the Dragons. Jesse Blacker is another ex-Dragon involved at Barys, but is currently on the injured list.
Background: This is one of our re-arranged games, after an earlier visit from the Kazakhs had to be cancelled when the opposition was in quarantine. Our host is fit again, and battling to get into the playoff places in the Eastern Conference. However, it has not been an easy season so far for Yury Mikhailis and his team. COVID has caused disruption, and results have been inconsistent. Recent form suggested things were getting back to normal and Barys would return to its accustomed position among the leaders in the East, but after winning four in a row at home, a 2-3 loss against Torpedo prevented a return to the top eight. Captain Darren Dietz has been on the injured list since Nov. 24.
Avangard (Dec. 21)
Last time out: Avangard came to Mytishchi on Nov. 29 and left with a 2-1 win. Jiri Sekac and Reid Boucher scored for the Hawks, Ethan Werek replied for the Dragons.
Familiar faces: Simon Hrubec joined Avangard in early November after starting the season between the piping for Red Star. The Czech goalie has since played eight games, winning five of them.
Background: In the four games since our previous meeting, the Dragons have actually picked up more points than their high-flying opponent. Both teams have two regulation wins apiece, but Avangard’s 1-4 loss at home to CSKA in its most recent game leaves it with five points from four, compared with six for Red Star. That highlights the progress our team has made this season; after a difficult start to the campaign, we are now showing genuine playoff form. We had a look at some of the numbers behind that resurgence here.
That’s not to say that this de facto Moscow Region derby will be anything other than a huge test. Avangard is among the leaders in the East, well capable to catching Ak Bars at the top of the table. One huge factor in that success is the Hawks’ penalty kill, which currently runs at an incredible 92.6%. With that kind of form, it’s not surprising that Avangard has the most miserly defense in the East, allowing just 66 goals in 34 games.