2020 is coming to an end, and for most of us it will be something of a relief to say goodbye to a year full of challenges and problems. But before we can move into 2021, there are two outstanding engagements ahead of us – both against Eastern Conference rivals.
Traktor Chelyabinsk (Dec. 26)
Last time out: Traktor is paying its second visit to Mytishchi this season after winning 5-3 here in November. The game was notable for Danny Kristo’s last goal as a Dragon; the American forward played just two more games for the club.
Familiar faces: Over the course of the season we’ve had plenty of ex-Chelyabinsk players in the Dragons’ Den. At present, though, we have two. Slava Leshchenko began the campaign on Traktor’s books but left without playing a KHL game for the club. Another recent arrival, Anton Lazarev, also started the season with today’s visitor, playing 10 games and scoring just one goal – on us!
Background: Traktor is currently riding high in the Eastern Conference, and a Christmas Eve win against Neftekhimik keeps Anvar Gatiyatullin’s men in third place. However, the team’s recent form has not been stellar. The five games before that Neftekhimik game brought three losses – two of them heavy ones at home to Jokerit (2-5) and SKA (1-5). In contrast, our Dragons were enjoying their best run of the season, collecting eight points from six games prior to that defeat against Avangard.
However, the international break seems to have helped. Traktor returned to action with a win at Avtomobilist before heading to Nizhnekamsk. Typically, the team leans heavily on its import forwards for scoring – Lukas Sedlak, Tomas Hyka and Pontus Aberg play a big role. But the Avtomobilist game brought the power play to the fore, with all three goals coming when Traktor had a man advantage. Vitaly Kravtsov, who may yet cross the Atlantic when the NHL begins its season next month, scored his 10th goal of the season in that game.
Avangard Omsk (Dec. 30)
Last time out: Last week’s meeting in Mytishchi was one to forget for most of the team as we suffered a 1-5 loss. However, it was a special day for Hunter Shinkaruk, whose assist on our goal took his hot streak to a club record eight games.
Familiar faces: Czech goalie Simon Hrubec played against us on Dec. 21 and could well be between the piping once again for our final game of 2020.
Background: On the face of it, everything is going well for Avangard. Second in the Eastern Conference, secure on top of the Chernyshev Division, Bob Hartley’s team is progressing nicely towards the playoffs. However, closer inspection reveals some worrying signs of late. Four losses in the last six games is hardly encouraging form. That’s a stark contrast with the impressive six-game hot streak that preceded it and included two 3-0 victories over table-topping Ak Bars.
There has also been some transfer activity, with forward Sergei Shumakov and goalie Emil Garipov leaving the club and rumors swirling that Ilya Kovalchuk might be about to reunite with Bob Hartley after working with him in Atlanta shortly after he crossed the Atlantic.