The Dragons get their 2021 program underway on Thursday with our first game against Severstal this season. Two days later, Sibir comes to Mytishchi. Both teams are looking for points to sustain their playoff bids, but recent form proves that Red Star is no pushover these days. Alexei Kovalev’s men are looking to build on a strong finish to 2020 – not just the back-to-back wins before the New Year break, but the run of improved form throughout December. The festive season brought 12 points (4 wins, 4 overtime or shoot-out losses, 1 regulation loss) to celebrate as we finally began to reap the benefits of a settled roster.
Severstal (Jan. 5)
Last season: It’s our first meeting with the Steelmen in this campaign. Last term we suffered two narrow losses against Severstal. In October we went down in overtime on home ice before a 1-2 loss in Cherepovets in February.
Familiar faces: Most of Sergei Monakhov’s 400 KHL appearances came in Severstal’s colors. The 29-year-old forward moved to Cherepovets in 2013 and was a regular on the team until the end of last season. During that time, he shared a locker room with Ivan Nikolishin, who was limited to 29 KHL outings in the last two seasons with Severstal. Defenseman Alexander Yevseyenkov had two spells at the club during that time, arriving from Torpedo during the 2013/14 season and returning for two more campaigns between 2016 and 2018. Fellow blue liner Viktor Baldayev was at Severstal last season, making 22 appearances.
Background: Severstal is looking to get into the playoff picture in the West and a recent move to sign up Jacob Berglund should give Andrei Razin’s team some extra firepower. The Swede, previously with Traktor, Neftekhimik and Dinamo Riga, has 4 (2+2) points in his first five games for his new team. However, he has not enjoyed many wins. Apart from a 7-2 thrashing of Neftekhimik, Severstal stuttered into the New Year break and ended 2020 on a downbeat with a 2-6 loss at lowly Sochi. Form on the road seems to be a problem for the Steelmen, with just two wins in 10 away from home and four straight losses edging Dinamo Riga in overtime back on Dec. 4.
Sibir (Jan. 7)
Last time out: Lev Starikov’s first – and only, to date – goal in the KHL was enough to give us a 1-0 victory over Sibir in Mytishchi in late November. Dmitry Shikin stopped 47 shots to secure the win as the Dragons avenged a 4-5 loss in Novosibirsk earlier in the season.
Familiar faces: None at present, following the departure of Sam Lofquist and Sergei Gimayev from the Dragons’ ranks.
Background: Our Chernyshev Division rival is fighting to get into the playoff places in the East, and a strong finish to the old year had Sibir applying the pressure to Barys and Torpedo. However, 2021 got off to an awful start, with a 0-3 loss at Neftekhimik enabling the teams above to open a gap. Worse still, struggling Neftekhimik was surely an opponent that Sibir would expect to beat.
Head coach Nikolai Zavarukhin has spoken about Sibir already facing a de facto playoff situation and he will be only too aware that any lapse against us would be another hammer blow for his team. So, we can expect a highly-motivated opponent. The key to success lies in slowing the team’s Finnish imports: Juuso Puustinen and Mikael Ruohomaa have nine points between them in the last five games and the comfortably lead the team in scoring. Compatriot Jyrki Jokipakka is the top scoring defenseman on the roster while another Finn, Harri Sateri, is the leading goalie. Sibir’s fifth import, Eric O’Dell, has been out of action since early October and has just nine appearances since his move from Metallurg. Among the team’s Russians, Alexander Sharov has previous against the Dragons, with 9 (2+7) points in his games against us to date.