16 September 2021
Our second road trip of the season sends the Dragons out east – taking in the previously undefeated league leader, an opponent with a penchant for overtime and an old rival in Siberia.
Salavat Yulaev (Sep. 16)
Last season: Amid last season’s struggles, our games with Salavat Yulaev were highlights. Our first point of the season came in a shoot-out loss on Sep. 19, and we followed that with a 5-3 home win and an overtime loss on the road. Only once in four games did we fail to get at least a point, and that was highly competitive 4-5 loss in Ufa late in the season.
Familiar faces: None
Background: Salavat Yulaev made a blazing start to the season, winning its first five games and rattling in a league-leading 23 goals in that time. More alarmingly for the rest of the league, the team’s traditional source of goals – its Finnish trio of Markus Granlund, Sakari Manninen and club icon Teemu Hartikainen – is not even leading the scoring charts. Instead, the top scorer is Alexander Kadeikin (2+5) ahead of summer signings Nikolai Kulemin and Sergei Shmelyov. The veteran Kulemin appears revitalized after his move from Metallurg, while Shmelyov’s career is on the up following a switch from Sochi.
Hartikainen, meanwhile, is four points away from becoming the 15th player to score 400 in the KHL. And there’s a curious little Olympic sub-plot in the game: just as many of our players are preparing to help China on its debut at the games, so Ufa’s Danish defenseman Philip Larsen is looking forward to representing the Scandinavians on their Olympic debut next February.
Traktor (Sep. 18)
Last season: Both our trips to Chelyabinsk ended in defeat – 1-3 in September, 2-4 in October. However, as the team improved, so did results and our last encounter with Traktor was a 4-3 home victory in December when Anton Lazarev scored a last-minute winner.
Familiar faces: None
Background: It seems that hockey in Chelyabinsk might last for more than 60 minutes. Three of Traktor’s first five games this season have gone into overtime, with Anvar Gatiyatulin’s team beating Sibir and Severstal but losing to Jokerit. The fourth game was a convincing 6-1 win in Riga, and much of the summer optimism around this team remains in place.
That optimism stemmed from a promising transfer campaign that brought in veteran defenseman Albert Yarullin from Ak Bars and proven Finnish goalscorer Teemu Pulkkinen from Lokomotiv. Yarullin scored two in the closing minutes of Tuesday’s win at Vityaz, Pulkkinen has already scored three goals, while Nikita Tertyshny’s lively start to the season suggests that the youngster could be ready to cement his place in the KHL at last.
Sibir (Sep. 20)
Last season: We shared two victories apiece last term as the Dragons maintain an overall winning record over Sibir since joining the KHL. A 1-0 home success in November (shut-out from Dmitry Shikin, first goal for the club from Lev Starikov) and a 3-1 road win in January (Ryan Sproul and Ethan Werek both on the scoresheet) give us eight regulation time wins from 16 encounters with the Siberians.
Familiar faces: Trevor Murphy’s time on the Dragons’ blue line was a success, with the Canadian putting up 35 (10+25) points in 77 games. That form earned him a move to Ak Bars, from where he was traded to Sibir in the summer as a replacement for Jyrki Jokipakka, a long-term injury loss. Alexei Kruchinin also had a short spell with us last season, but his 10 games made less of an impact.
Background: Unpredictable. That’s the word for Sibir this season. The team started by blowing a 2-0 lead at Traktor and losing in overtime. Then, it alternated a 0-4 loss at Dynamo with a 3-0 win at Torpedo, unexpectedly silencing a strong Nizhny Novgorod offense. The opening road trip ended with a 2-4 reverse at Neftekhimik.
Sibir’s home opener came on Monday in a 2-4 loss to Severstal and at the moment Novosibirsk looks to be in for a long battle to secure a playoff place. The long-term loss of Jokipakka on defense is undoubtedly hurting Andrei Martemyanov’s team and Swedish signing Anton Wedin has not yet had the hoped-for impact since joining from HV71 in the summer. On the bright side, 21-year-old forward Sergei Dubakin got his first KHL in the Severstal game; if he shows readiness for this level of hockey, it could add a valuable extra weapon to the roster.