The regular season is coming to an end, but there are still six games left for the Dragons in the final two weeks of action. We start with a home game against Sochi before traveling to a Severstal team still looking to secure its playoff place. Then on Saturday we have our final meeting with a familiar foe, Salavat Yulaev.
HC Sochi (home, Feb. 16)
Last time out: Our previous encounter this season had a bit of everything. The home team jumped to a 2-0 lead, we battled back to lead 3-2 thanks to a Casey Wellman goal against his former club, then Gleb Shashkov scored his first for the Dragons snapping a 3-3 tie in the third to give us the win.
Familiar faces: Wellman has only played twice more since our visit to the Black Sea, but he is off the injured list now and could feature in this game. Sean Collins, who recently potted the first goal of his second spell at Red Star, played two seasons for the Leopards while fellow forward Slava Leshchenko had a brief spell in Sochi in the past. Goalie Dmitry Shikin is more firmly associated with the Southern club, where he first established himself as a KHL starter after leaving SKA.
Background: Our Chinese New Year celebrations got off to a great start with a history-making overtime win at Jokerit. Ivan Nikolishin’s goal snapped a nine-game losing streak and secured our club’s first ever victory in Helsinki. It’s often tempting to assume that the start of a new year – in any calendar – is nothing more than a coincidence of dates, but it’s no secret that everyone associated with the Dragons is keen to put the problems of the Year of the Rat behind us and hope for better in the upcoming Year of the Ox.
Sochi’s season has not been a lot of fun, but the big highlight is the form of Sergei Shmelyov. The forward set a club record productive streak when he tallied 10 (8+2) points in 8 games between Jan. 8-27. At the weekend, he made his full international debut for Team Russia during the Beijer Hockey Games in Malmo (at the same time, our own Alexei Toropchenko featured for Russia ‘B’, a first for our club). And, in the final days of the campaign, Shmelyov could set a record for the most productive single season in Sochi’s colors. Currently, he has 41 (20+21) points, with only Andre Petersson’s 44-point haul from 2015/16 ahead of him.
Severstal Cherepovets (away, Feb. 18)
Last time out: Despite firing in 44 shots at Dmitry Shugayev when Severstal came to Mytishchi, the Dragons finished on the wrong end of a 2-4 scoreline. The Steelmen opened a 3-0 lead, somewhat against the run of play, and goals from Luke Lockhart and Cory Kane were not enough to save the situation.
Familiar faces: Four of our players have played for Severstal. Forward Sergei Monakhov and defenseman Alexander Yevseyenkov racked up plenty of games for the Steelmen in their time, while Viktor Baldayev and Ivan Nikolishin had less chance to make an impact in Cherepovets.
Background: After making history in Helsinki last week, we have a chance to do the same thing in Cherepovets this time. Severstal remains one of the few remaining KHL arenas from which the Dragons have yet to take a victory and there’s no time like the present. However, Andrei Razin’s team promises to pose a stern test. The Steelmen have a playoff place in their sights and know that every point is crucial in the final weeks of the season. Of course, we said that about Jokerit, and look what happened there.
Nikita Guslistov could be the man to watch for the home team. Aged just 18, he set a record as the youngest captain in the KHL when he wore the C against SKA on Jan. 27. Prior to that, he became the youngest Russian player to grab a hat-trick in the league after scoring three on Avtomobilist in a 6-3 road win. Only Finland’s Eeli Tolvanen has achieved that feat at a younger age. Guslistov recently played alongside Alexei Toropchenko for Russia ‘B’, and the youngsters will both hope to boost their international prospects further as the season draws to a close.
Salavat Yulaev Ufa (away, Feb. 20)
Last time out: In a season where many of our better performances have been against the bigger teams, our results against Salavat Yulaev stand out. Each of our three meetings has yielded at least a point, with the highlight undoubtedly being the thrilling 5-3 win in October that decisively snapped our losing start to the season. Since then, we made our first trip to Ufa and went down in overtime despite two-point performances from Hunter Shinkaruk and Ryan Sproul.
Familiar faces: Anton Lazarev played two full seasons for Salavat Yulaev, scoring 27 (12+15) points from 2015-2017. He left early in the following campaign to join Vityaz.
Background: Unpredictable at the start of the season, Salavat Yulaev has settled into a rhythm and is targeting top spot in the Chernyshev Division ahead of Avangard. It’s a tall order, with the Hawks four points clear after 55 of the 60 games played, but whatever the outcome of that race it’s apparent that Tomi Lamsa’s team is looking strong ahead of the playoffs. With just three losses in 15 games since Dec. 26 – and two of them in overtime – Ufa’s recent form is strong. At the time of writing, the team is on a five-game winning streak, although that will be tested with a game against league leader Ak Bars before we play.
Most of Ufa’s scoring revolves around its record-breaking Finnish contingent – Teemu Hartikainen has secured his position as the top-scoring Finn in the KHL this season, underpinning his cult status in Bashkortostan. But another import, Canadian-born Geoff Platt, is closing on a career landmark of his own. At the start of the week, the naturalized Belarusian international was on 198 goals – two short of a double century. To date, only five other players have hit the net 200 times. Hartikainen also enjoys his games against us: so far he has 13 (9+4) points on the Dragons, including a goal and an assist in November’s most recent match-up.