Vityaz Moscow Region 3 Kunlun Red Star 0
It was one of those nights when the puck just would not go in. The Dragons had the misfortune to encounter a goalie in top form and, despite playing a full part in this game, slipped to defeat in Podolsk. The result, combined with Torpedo’s point from its overtime loss at Spartak, also marks the official end of any prospect of a playoff place for our team this season. While the failure to crack the top eight was perhaps inevitable given all of the problems that engulfed the club after the pandemic gripped China almost a year ago, it’s still frustrating to see the season end so early – especially given the steady improvements our team has made since the start of December.
Many of those improvements were in evidence here. For long periods of the game, Red Star was creating more than Vityaz and Ilya Ezhov faced a busy evening. In the end, the home goalie stopped 31 shots to secure one of his more demanding shut-outs of the season. At the other end, Vityaz also enjoyed some good opportunities and proved more clinical in front of goal when it counted.
The first period started to get away from the Dragons when our guys ran into penalty trouble midway through the session. Although the defense successfully neutralized two Vityaz power plays, the game’s momentum tilted towards the home team. That pressure paid off just seconds after Tyler Wong returned to the action following his second minor of the evening. Home forward Svyatoslav Grebenshchikov won the puck in the corner and moved into a shooting position; his effort was deflected into the net by 19-year-old forward Zakhar Bardakov for his fifth goal of the season.
If the first period got away from Red Star, the second was much closer to the kind of hockey we want to see. For long periods, the Dragons bossed the game and Ilya Ezhov had to make 17 saves to keep our guys off the scoreboard. Spencer Foo set the tone early in the session with a shot from the doorstep that had Ezhov struggling to hold on. There were good chances for the returning Hunter Shinkaruk after a sweet tic-tac-toe play and later for Ryan Sproul after he dangled his way into a good spot but fired straight at the goalie.
Unfortunately, in the middle of it all, a penalty on Alexander Yevseyenkov saw Vityaz get its second goal of the game. Kaspars Daugavins was the scorer, firing home from the top of the circle off a Justin Danforth feed. It was a big moment for Daugavins, moving him to 45 points for the season and setting a record total for a Latvian player in a KHL season.
In the third period it was hard to keep up the same offensive intensity. Early in the frame, the pattern of play resembled the second stanza but as time went on, physical and mental fatigue took its toll and Vityaz found it easier to close out the win. With seven seconds left, an empty net goal from Jakub Jerabek added an undeserved gloss to the final scoreline but, in reality, the damage was done at the other end as we failed to take our chances earlier in the action.