19 September 2021
Traktor Chelyabinsk 4 Kunlun Red Star 1
Brandon Yip achieved a big landmark today as he became the first player in franchise history to score 50 goals. Our captain, noted as a leader for club and country on and off the ice, brought up that milestone midway through the third period as the Dragons battled for a way back into this game.
The play came at the end of our power play – the door to the home penalty box opened just as Ryan Sproul fired in his shot from the blue line and the teams were officially back at even strength when Ethan Werek won his battle on the slot and Yipper pounced on a loose puck to complete his half century. It took 168 games for our leading scorer to get to 50 goals, a more than respectable return given some of the difficult seasons we have endured as a club learning to compete in the KHL.
Unfortunately, the goal was not enough to maintain our happy knack of winning on Saturdays. Red Star’s two previous triumphs this season both arrived at the weekend and both involved a fightback. Today, our third Saturday of the season, proved a test too far. The game was snatched away from the Dragons in the space of 39 seconds. Another gritty defensive display from our guys was doing a fine job of frustrating Traktor’s quest for a fifth successive victory. Among the select 1,000 spectators permitted inside the arena in Chelyabinsk, there was a hint of anxiety creeping in as Alexander Lazushin kept coming up with the answers to deny the home offense.
Yet, in the 38th minute, it all came undone. First, a well-worked counter-attack saw Tomas Hyka’s delicate feed go out wide for Nick Bailen and the Belarusian defenseman got the puck to the slot for Nikita Tertyshny to open the scoring. Then, 39 seconds later, the same trio combined again and this time it was Bailen who found the net following Tertyshny’s rush and Hyka’s pass. A game that had been very much alive was transformed into an uphill struggle.
There could be no complaints about our goaltending here: Lazushin stopped 33 shots in the first two sessions (and 43 in total on a busy day for him), while in front of his net the team blocked 15 shots in those 40 minutes (and 23 by the final hooter). But Traktor’s offense has added depth over the summer; no longer is this a one-line team reliant on the Czech partnership of Hyka and Lukas Sedlak. And ultimately, that depth took a toll on our guys despite a gutsy display.
On offense, true, there were times when we needed a bit more. Even so, there were a few chances. A Jake Chelios effort from the blue line late in the first reminded the home team that nothing could be taken for granted; Josh Nicholls tested home goalie Emil Garipov during a second-period power play.
Sadly, by the time Yip got his goal we were down by three after Tertyshny’s second of the game. And hopes of a fightback were quashed when Teemu Pulkkinen found the empty net in the closing stages.
Saturday’s game was the second of our current road trip, which concludes Monday at Sibir. Then we’re back in Mytishchi for four games, starting with the visit of Amur on Sep. 23. Two games against teams close to us in the Eastern Conference standings offer a great chance to get off this current skid and start picking up points again.