29 September 2021
Kunlun Red Star 3 Admiral Vladivostok 1
A third win of the season, and our biggest of the campaign to date, moves the Dragons off the foot of the KHL standings. After the disappointment of losing to Amur, this was the perfect response – and the two points see Red Star leapfrog its Far East rival on the way to the top 10 in the Eastern Conference.
There were changes to the team. Jeremy Smith returned in goal, bringing an end to Alexander Lazushin’s run as starting netminder. In the past, Smith has alternated games with his goaltending partner, so Lazushin’s recent spell of nine starts was a new experience. However, he had little difficulty slotting back into the team and finished with 31 saves and his first W of the 2021/22 season.
There was also a second Dragons debut for defenseman Nikita Khlystov, who joins us on a try-out basis. The 28-year-old was on our books for the 2017/18 campaign, making 32 appearances and collecting 2 (1+1) points. Khlystov’s return means a slight change in club policy: unlike our other players, he would not easily be eligible to represent China at the upcoming Olympics. However, with Colin Joe injured, our defensive options are limited and getting a familiar face to help out is surely no bad thing. Today he took Mikael Tam’s place on the roster and joined Ryan Sproul in our first defensive pair. Rudi Ying came in for Greg Squires in the only other change.
However, the change of personnel was less significant than the change of approach. A weekend break from the relentless treadmill of KHL action gave everyone a chance to refresh, physically and mentally. And it was a visibly more confident team that came to the ice here. The first period was as strong as we’ve seen this season and even when we faced problems, our guys still posed a threat. Our first PK of the game saw a shot ding against the post … but it was Parker Foo scenting a short-handed effort that caused the danger.
Once back to full strength, it wasn’t long before Kunlun had the lead. Alex Riche did this one all by himself, stealing the puck on the Admiral blue line and darting goalwards. Nikita Serebryakov came to meet him, but seemed to lose his near post and the dropped his stick after colliding with the goal frame. Riche’s quick thinking took him round the back of the net to score on the wraparound with the visiting goalie unarmed.
Things got even better late in the frame when Luke Lockhart’s fourth goal of the season, this one on the power play, extended the lead. And nobody could suggest the scoreline was anything other than justified, with Red Star dominating the key stats in the opening stanza.
It was the first time this season our guys had enjoyed a two-goal lead and that changed the approach to the second period. Admiral had to try to force the pace, while Kunlun could rely on some good old-fashioned game management to dictate the play. The visitor tried to pose more of an offensive threat but the only goal of the session went out way. Josh Nicholls launched an up-and-under into the back boards, Riche chased it down behind the net and set up Cory Kane for a thunderous one-timer to make it 3-0.
The only small disappointment in a satisfying evening came midway through the third, when Dmitry Lugin pulled a goal back for Admiral. It had little impact on the outcome, but robbed Smith of a shut-out on his return to action. However, it’s a team game … and this team is moving up the table just in time for a meeting with high-flying Dynamo Moscow on Thursday.