Thursday brought the long-awaited return of our fans to Arena Mytishchi – and despite a narrow loss, nobody could argue they were short-changed by a barn-burner of a game that saw us share 11 goals with Neftekhimik.
It was far from a full house. Capacity is still restricted due to coronavirus concerns, but those who came to fly the Dragons’ flag made themselves heard from the start. That gives a real lift to everyone involved with the club and the improved atmosphere surely contributed to probably the most exciting game of our season so far.
The action was relentless from the off. Red Star got an early power play, but could not capitalize. Then, back at full strength, Neftekhimik grabbed the lead when Libor Hudacek stole the puck from Andrej Sustr and beat Jeremy Smith.
There was almost a repeat when Pavel Poryadin intercepted the puck on the blue line, but Smith denied Neftekhimik a second goal. Immediately, play went to the other end of the ice and Gleb Shashkov potted his second for the club to tie the scores. It wasn’t long before a well-worked move saw Ivan Nikolishin break down the left and get the puck to the danger zone. Anton Lazarev’s deft flick steered it on for Sergei Monakhov and he fired home his first of the season from between the hash marks.
Things got even better at the start of the second period when Ethan Werek extended the lead. Our forward reached 100 KHL games this week and celebrated by making it 3-1, showing great presence of mind to keep his stick down and bat home a looping puck after his initial shot was blocked by Evgeny Ivannikov.
With a two-goal lead, Red Star looked well placed to move off the foot of the Eastern Conference, but Neftekhimik had other ideas. Three goals in four minutes turned the game around abruptly, but the visitor’s lead lasted just 18 seconds. That was all the time Spencer Foo needed to tie it up again, battling away from the boards and firing home from the center of the zone.
The action was relentless, and the visitor regained the lead before the second intermission when Rafael Bikmullin scored his second of the night to make it 4-5.
Still, the Dragons kept battling. Vojtech Mozik fired in another equalizer from the blue line early in the third and the game was up for grabs. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t go our way. Instead, visiting defenseman Mikhail Sidorov potted the winner. If that name rings a bell, it would be because he played six games for us early in the season before parting company with our team. Now established in Nizhnekamsk, he picked his old colleagues for his first goal of the season and handed Neftekhimik the verdict.