6 September 2021
After that sensational fightback victory in Kazan, the Dragons are heading back home in buoyant mood. Few gave our guys a chance of success in Tatarstan, but having proved the doubters wrong once, it’s time to build on that foundation with the backing of our fans in Mytishchi. The four upcoming games include two clashes against teams expected to prosper this season, and two against strugglers from last term. However, this season’s form guide to date suggests that, as every financial advisor will remind you, ‘past results are no guarantee of future returns’.
Dinamo Riga (Sep. 6)
Last season: 2020/21 was a tough campaign for both clubs, and our games against Riga were a rare highlight for Dinamo. We met twice in the space of week in November, losing 3-5 in Latvia before missing out 4-5 in overtime on home ice.
Familiar faces: Hunter Shinkaruk’s two goals in that home game clearly made an impression on our opponent. He was traded to Latvia in the summer (in return, we acquired the rights to Martins Dzierkals) after a successful spell in our colors. Fellow forward Gunars Skvorcovs played 16 games for the Dragons in the last two seasons before returning to his homeland. He has yet to feature this season. On our side, goalie Alexander Lazushin left us for Riga last term, but had little chance to make an impact as Dinamo suffered a horrendous campaign.
Background: The Latvians continue their opening road trip and are still searching for a first win of the season. However, Dinamo hasn’t performed badly in its opening two games. A 2-3 loss against a Lokomotiv team widely regarded as a serious contender for honors this season was followed by a repeat of that scoreline against CSKA, beaten finalist last term. Given last year’s struggles, with the club rooted to the foot of the table, this suggests potential for improvement this time around.
We’ll have to contend with an old friend, as Hunter Shinkaruk’s 2 (1+1) in those opening games puts him top of Dinamo’s scoring so far. Shinky, of course, compiled 39 (15+24) points in his time as a Dragon, including a club record 8-game productive streak last season. In addition, Czech forward Rudolf Cerveny made a goalscoring start to life beside the Baltic and veteran Latvian international Martins Karsums will surely be eager to keep up his form as he bids to return to the national team after missing the successful Olympic Qualification tournament in Riga last month.
Jokerit (Sep. 9)
Last season: We made history on our last game against Jokerit, snatching a 5-4 overtime win to claim our first ever KHL victory in Finland. In a topsy-turvy game we led twice in regulation, but also trailed 1-3 at one stage. Ivan Nikolishin grabbed the overtime winner. A week earlier, Jokerit left Mytishchi with a hard-fought 2-1 verdict.
Familiar faces: Veli-Matti Savinainen played in our 2018/19 campaign, compiling 18 (9+9) points in 37 games.
Background: This is one of those instances where past results – and summer recruitment – are of little value when assessing the start of the new campaign. Jokerit was expected to enjoy a strong season – but so far this hasn’t happened for Lauri Marjamaki’s team. A 0-3 loss at Ak Bars on the opening day was perhaps unsurprising, but a 2-4 reverse at Neftekhimik in game two was definitely an unpleasant surprise. That said, Jokerit only lost in the closing minutes in Nizhnekamsk – the game was tied at 2-2 until Ronald Knot put the home team in front on 57:08.
However, there are grounds for more serious concern when looking at the team’s newcomers. During the summer, Jokerit worked hard to reduce the age of its roster, but the (lack of) scoring does not suggest the new guys have gelled just yet. Goalscorers Brian O’Neill and Iiro Pakarinen are part of the old guard, and points from new faces are so far limited to assists from Hannes Bjorninen and Philip Holm.
HC Sochi (Sep. 11)
Last season: Tough as things were last term, games against Sochi offered some relief. In December we edged a 4-3 verdict beside the Black Sea, with Gleb Shashkov’s first goal for the Dragons securing the win in the third period. Then came a 4-2 win on home ice in February, with Vojtech Mozik scoring twice before Ethan Werek potted the game winner, assisted by Mozik.
Familiar faces: Three former Dragons joined Sochi in the summer. Goalie Magnus Hellberg needs no introduction: his season with us saw him go to the Olympics with team Sweden and help the Tre Kronor to World Championship gold. Andrei Bakanov, still only 19, played his first KHL season with us last term and is currently on a two-way contract that sees him sharing his time between Sochi and the Moscow Region town of Stupino. And Slovakia’s Martin Bakos were part of our very first season, collecting 23 points in total before moving to Sochi the following year. He returns to the club via Spartak.
Background: Once again, past results are no indication of current form. HC Sochi did not have a great season last term, and its pre-season was frankly alarming at times. However, two games into the 2021/22 campaign, the Leopards are riding high in the Western Conference with two wins from two games. And this team is full of goals, with a 4-0 win over Amur followed by a 6-5 overtime success against Vityaz.
Once again, there’s a familiar face leading the scoring, with Martin Bakos collecting 5 (2+3) points in two games. That’s matched by Denis Vikharev’s return after he joined the club from Severstal – a burst of form that has him ranked #2 in the ‘Priceless League’ fan rating. Kirill Pilipenko, a former Dynamo prospect who has yet to establish himself in the league, is also riding high with 1+4 points following his arrival beside the Black Sea.
Avtomobilist (Sep. 14)
Last season: The Motormen were fortunate to meet us twice in the early weeks of last season, when we were still trying to pull together a roster amid the pandemic. Thus, results of 2-5 and 0-7 should not be seen as representative of our team.
Familiar faces: Goalie Dmitry Shikin played a big role last season before moving on to Yekaterinburg in the summer. He’s likely to spend most of the year as understudy to Jakub Kovar, but made his competitive debut against Salavat Yulaev on Sunday. Jesse Blacker is also a Motorman these days. The naturalized Kazakh defenseman swapped Nur-Sultan for Yekaterinburg in the summer.
Background: Avtomobilist remains one of the Eastern Conference’s big enigmas. The Yekaterinburg team has invested heavily in recent seasons, making a conscious effort to transform its status from also-ran to contender. Yet, somehow, it isn’t quite happening. The Motormen are yet to get deep into the playoffs and the start to this season has been worrying. Back to back losses against Metallurg and Salavat Yulaev are not, perhaps, wholly alarming. However, a failure to win twice on home ice puts early pressure on head coach Bill Peters.
Part of the issue might involve the uncertainty around the future of Pavel Datsyuk. The Magic Man is a cult hero in his hometown (and far beyond). During the summer, he announced that he was pondering extending his career for one more season, but would make a final decision after following an individual preparation program. So far, though, the Triple Gold Club member has yet to confirm one way or another what he plans to do … and the indecision could be weighing on his team-mates.