High-flyers and playoff hopefuls

24 January 2021 , , , , , ,

The Dragons’ latest road trip brings four games in a week. Two of them pit us against teams fighting to secure a playoff place – at the time of writing, Vityaz lies eighth in the West while Torpedo is eighth in the East. The other two are tough tests at teams riding high in the rankings – league leader Ak Bars, and Lokomotiv, third in the Western Conference.

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Vityaz (Jan. 25)

Last season: This is our first meeting with Vityaz in 2020/21, but last term we won both games against the team from Podolsk. In October, Andrew Miller’s hat-trick led a 4-2 victory on the road before December brought another Miller goal on the way to a shoot-out win in Beijing.

Familiar faces: Alexander Yevseyenkov lined up against us in those meetings last season. That was his second campaign with Vityaz, in total he made 114 appearances in playoff and regular season action for the club. Fellow defenseman Vojtech Mozik also had two seasons in Podolsk before leaving in 2019 to play in Sweden.

Background: Vityaz is fighting hard to break into the top eight in the West and reach the playoffs for the third successive season. Much will depend on its leading scorers in the remaining weeks of the regular season: summer signing Justin Danforth is out in front with 46 (19+27) points, while the much-travelled Kaspars Daugavins has 44 for the season and is one short of setting a record tally for a Latvian player in the KHL.

On a good day, Vityaz can match the best in the league. The first game of the season brought a 4-0 win at Ak Bars, there were also successes against CSKA, Avangard and Avtomobilist. But when things go wrong, they can go badly wrong: witness a 1-7 loss to Lokomotiv at the start of January, or the mid-November horror show that allowed 15 goals in two home games against Spartak and SKA.

Lokomotiv (Jan. 27)

Last time out: Our scheduled meeting in Mytishchi on Sep. 22 was cancelled due to Lokomotiv’s inability to raise a team. Those circumstances gave the Dragons a first victory of the season. Our last meeting on the ice came in Jan. 2020 when Lokomotiv won 5-0 in Yaroslavl.

Familiar faces: Several of our short-term summer recruits had Lokomotiv connections, but following the departure of Denis Osipov those links have evaporated.

Background: Under Andrei Skabelka, Lokomotiv has proved a tough team to beat. A nine-game winning streak last year lifted the Railwaymen to third place in the West and, at the time of writing, they have the second-best record in their conference but trail SKA because the Petersburg club tops the Bobrov Division. Since the turn of the year, Loko has enjoyed wins against both conference leaders, defeating CSKA 3-0 on home before winning in a shoot-out at Ak Bars. There was also a victory over SKA. In Yaroslavl, in particular, Loko is a formidable opponent: the team is unbeaten at home since Nov. 19 and a 1-4 loss to Jokerit.

There is a lot of experience on this team, with players like Anton Lander, Andre Petersson and Teemu Pulkkinen posing a threat to KHL defenses for years. However, it’s Denis Alexeyev who leads the team in scoring at present: the 23-year-old has 31 (10+21) points from 47 games and is on course for his best-ever KHL season.

Ak Bars (Jan. 30)

Last time out: Back in November, Ak Bars came to Mytishchi and earned a 5-2 victory. Alexei Toropchenko and Luke Lockhart scored our goals. The game also brought Justin Azevedo’s final goal of an impressive KHL career; he played just twice more for Ak Bars before leaving the club for personal reasons.

Familiar faces: Trevor Murphy’s impressive form for the Dragons earned him a big move to the KHL’s leading team. Since swapping Red Star for Ak Bars, the 25-year-old defenseman has 8 (1+7) points in 12 games. Prior to that, he played 77 games for KRS, scoring 10 goals and 25 assists.

Background: Dmitry Kvartalnov’s team has been effortlessly impressive throughout the season. Streets ahead of the competition in the East, Ak Bars was the first club to confirm a playoff place and maintain its proud record of qualifying for every post season in the KHL era. However, since securing its playoff place, the team has slowed a little. After a run of just one loss in 14 games, Ak Bars suffered back-to-back home losses, surprisingly falling to bottom club Dinamo Riga in overtime before Lokomotiv won a shoot-out in Kazan two days later.

Torpedo (Feb. 1)

Last time out: The Dragons took points from both home games against Torpedo this season, winning 3-1 in October before missing out in overtime in December. On the road, though, we’re still awaiting our first goal after losing 0-2 in November.

Familiar faces: Alexander Yevseyenkov knows all about hockey in Nizhny Novgorod after beginning his KHL career with Torpedo back in 2010/11. He played more than 150 games for the club before moving to Severstal in 2013/14. With seven games for Torpedo in 2017/18, defenseman Viktor Baldayev is another who represented both teams.

Background: Torpedo continues to battle for a place in the Eastern Conference playoffs, with David Nemirovsky’s team rarely suffering from extended losing streaks but struggling to compile long winning runs. Since the end of September, Torpedo has not lost more than twice back-to-back, but – consistently inconsistent – its longest winning streak is four games. Deadline day signing Chris Terry has added to the team’s firepower – the 31-year-old Canadian forward scored 8 (4+4) points in his first eight games on the team, bringing another option to support leading scorer Damir Zhafyarov.

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