Home again, buoyed by victory in Siberia, Alexei Kovalev’s team has a great chance to start building a winning streak. The upcoming visitors to Mytishchi, Amur and Neftekhimik, are among the teams alongside us at the foot of the Eastern Conference. Picking up points in these games would go a long way towards ensuring that the Dragons do not finish last in the Eastern Conference. And, given the difficulties we’ve endured since the end of last season, that would be no small achievement. Here’s the lowdown on the upcoming battles in the basement.
Amur Khabarovsk (Jan. 19)
Last time out: Our recent trip to Khabarovsk wasn’t much fun, with back-to-back losses in our first road games of 2021. So far this season we’ve lost three from three against the Tigers, so it’s time to change that script.
Familiar faces: Almost inevitably, Dmitry Arkhipov got his first goal for Amur against us. He began the season in our colors before moving on to Khabarovsk. Hopefully Tuesday’s game will see Anton Lazarev bring the ex-factor with a goal against the club he represented last season.
Background: After a slow start to 2021, the Dragons got back on track with an impressive 3-1 win at Sibir in our last game. The result gave everyone at the club a real lift after some tough times since returning from the New Year break and showed that, as a team, we are ready to fight all the way to the end of a difficult season.
Amur’s story is a bit different. Sergei Svetlov’s team still harbors a faint hope of making the playoffs and comes here knowing that only victory will suffice after dropping points in Kazakhstan at the weekend. Forward Dmitry Lugin is the man in form, with 6 (3+3) points in his last five appearances, including one goal and one assist in the recent games against us in Khabarovsk. Another recent scourge of our defense, 21-year-old forward Matvei Zaseda, has just three points in his KHL career to date – but all three of them came in a 5-4 win against us on Jan. 8. However, the youngster has not travelled with the team on this latest road trip as he recovers from injury.
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (Jan. 21)
Last time out: Expect goals. In three previous meetings this season, we’ve traded 25 goals and the most recent encounter ended with a 5-4 victory for the Dragons in Tatarstan. Ethan Werek had 3 (2+1) points that day, while Hunter Shinkaruk was in the middle of a club record eight-game productive streak.
Familiar faces: Two of Neftekhimik’s players had walk-on roles in Red Star’s history. Forward Jonas Enlund played eight games in our debut season without registering a point, while defenseman Mikhail Sidorov featured briefly on this season’s team.
Background: If reaching this year’s playoffs was always an optimistic dream for a team thrown into turmoil throughout the summer, there is always every reason to believe that our Dragons can be a competitive team, even in adversity. And the competition we’re facing right now is the battle to escape the basement in the Eastern Conference. Neftekhimik is currently the team ahead of us, just one point clear having played two games more at the time of writing. And this head-to-head encounter is great chance for Red Star to move up the table.
Form suggests we have a good chance. It’s true that Neftekhimik has improved in recent weeks, with five wins in its last seven games. However, on the road, Vyacheslav Butsayev’s team still has problems, with just one victory in 11. In the midst of a good start to 2021, Neftekhimik lost 1-6 and 0-3 in its two January road games. The team has also parted company with several of its more experienced players. Veteran goalie Konstantin Barulin left, as did former Red Star forward Andrei Kostitsyn. Between now and the end of the season, therefore, the club will be looking to see what talents it can nurture from its farm club and junior teams.