For the sixth game in a row the Dragons added to their points tally and Alexei Kovalev’s team now stands 3 points clear of basement club Neftekhimik and 13 adrift of the playoff places. Closing that gap over the second half of the season is a huge ask, but recent form shows that this team is moving in the right direction. If Kunlun can start forcing victories in overtime, rather than falling to narrow losses, the picture might begin to look very different.
Saturday’s game against Barys, rescheduled after the Kazakhs were unable to play as planned due to COVID, saw Cory Kane make a welcome return to the roster. The 30-year-old last featured on Nov. 10. His availability meant there was no need to rush new signing Anton Lazarev into action; similarly Czech blue liner Vojtech Mozik had a watching brief after agreeing to join from Farjestad. His compatriot Andrej Sustr was unavailable for this one, playing for his country at the Channel 1 Cup just down the road in Moscow, so Ruslan Pedan returned to the defense.
Both teams had something of a break coming into this game and perhaps both had anticipated a full week’s rest during the international pause. Certainly, the first period was short of incident for much of the time and there was little to keep either goalie busy. Instead, the tone was set by a big hit early on from Pedan and we were treated to a physical battle rather than a show of finesse. However, when the Dragons got a chance, they took it. Hunter Shinkaruk has been a big part of our recent resurgence and he claimed his 10th goal of the season to put us in front late in the opening frame. A perceptive feed found Sean Collins at the near post, he selflessly looked for Casey Wellman at the back door and a panicky visiting defense cleared the puck anywhere it could. That meant putting it straight onto Hunter’s stick and he swept it back into the net to take us into the intermission with a 1-0 lead.
The second period was goalless, but that was largely down to Jeremy Smith and some committed work from the home defense. Smitty’s big moment came on the PK, twisting and stretching to pluck an angled Phil Varone shot out of the air and rob the Canadian of a seemingly certain goal. At the other end, chances were hard to come by, but Alexei Toropchenko hit the bar on a late rush.
Had that shot been a centimeter lower, the third period might have taken on a different character. Instead, as Red Star looked to preserve a slender lead, Barys poured onto the attack. It was something of a siege around our net, with 24 shots raining in on Smith and seven more blocked by the defense. In the circumstances, the Dragons did well to limit the visitor to a single goal, put away by young defenseman Samat Daniyar in only his fifth KHL appearance. Former Kunlun favorite Linus Videll had an assist on the play. Smith finished regulation with 39 saves as we moved into overtime.
Here, though, Barys did not need long to find a winner. After 90 seconds of play Darren Dietz – back on the team after three weeks on the injured list – exchanged passes with Nikita Mikhailis before shooting home the winner.