16 October 2021
Almost exactly a year ago, the Dragons travelled to St. Petersburg and left with a historic KHL win over SKA. Now we’re heading back as part of a four-game road trip. Can we do it again? After picking up at least a point in each of our last three games, confidence is growing. Here’s a run-down of the upcoming action.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (Oct. 17)
Last season: Last season we only met Lokomotiv once: our home game was cancelled due to a COVID outbreak in the opposition ranks, giving us a walkover victory. In January we travelled to Yaroslavl and went down 2-3 in a battling performance.
Familiar faces: Our goalie Alexander Lazushin began his KHL career at Loko back in 2009/10 and had second spell with the Railwaymen a decade later, just after his first season with us. Defenseman Denis Osipov also played for Lokomotiv in 2016/17.
Background: The appointment of Igor Nikitin as head coach in Yaroslavl seems to have revitalized Lokomotiv’s season. A big summer recruitment program had many tipping the Railwaymen as serious contenders for this season’s Gagarin Cup, but the early weeks of the season under Andrei Skabelka were a big disappointment. That cost Skabelka his job and brought Nikitin, 2019 champion with CSKA, to the club. Since then, results have been more in line with expectations: the new head coach has suffered just one loss in seven games and the team is steadily climbing the Western Conference table.
Two of those prominent summer signings, Reid Boucher and Maxim Shalunov, were expected to lead the Lokomotiv offense this term. So far, it hasn’t quite happened for either player: Boucher’s 12 (4+8) from 17 games represents a more than respectable return, but Shalunov has just 7 (4+3) so far. The absence of Swedish forward Andre Petersson, out injured since Sep. 14, hasn’t helped either. However, homegrown talents Denis Alexeyev and Pavel Kraskovsky have stepped up well to take on their share of production.
Severstal Cherepovets (Oct. 19)
Last season: Severstal is always an awkward opponent for Red Star, winning eight of our 10 meetings to date. Last season saw the Steelmen pick up a 4-2 victory in Mytishchi before winning 3-1 in Cherepovets in February.
Familiar faces: Nikita Khlystov patrolled the blue line for Severstal in 2019/20, playing 48 games and compiling 7 (3+4) points.
Scoring has been Severstal’s problem this season. Prior to Saturday’s uncharacteristic 11-goal thriller against Neftekhimik, Andrei Razin’s team has just 29 goals in 17 games to date, with only Sibir notching fewer. Closer inspection shows that nobody has yet stepped up to dominate the team’s production – Daniil Vovchenko leads the way with 9 (2+7) and Jacob Stenqvist has a respectable eight-point haul from defense, but the regular forwards on the roster tend to have just a few points apiece.
However, at the other end it was a very different picture prior to that goalfest against Nizhnekamsk. With 40 goals allowed, Severstal compares favorably with the Western Conference’s leaders Jokerit, SKA and Dynamo Moscow, despite lying in 10th in the standings. That’s underpinned by a strong PK – only Metallurg Magnitogorsk has allowed fewer power play goals and a penalty kill success of 86.7% is fifth best in the KHL. Our Dragons have the offensive power to trouble any opponent, but can our defense ensure that Severstal’s forwards continue to struggle for goals?
SKA St. Petersburg (Oct. 21)
Last season: It was almost exactly one year ago when we went to SKA and made history with our first ever victory in St. Petersburg. Goals late in the second period from Tyler Wong and Ryan Sproul cancelled out Kirill Marchenko’s early opener, and Simon Hrubec’s 42 saves backstopped a memorable win. At home we also pushed the Army Men close, but goals in the last five minutes from Malte Stromwall and Marchenko gave the visitor a 4-3 verdict.
Familiar faces: None
Background: All the talk in the Northern capital is about Nikita Gusev’s return. One of the heroes of PyeongChang, the 29-year-old helped SKA to the 2017 Gagarin Cup and enjoyed four prolific seasons in Petersburg before trying his hand in the NHL. Across the Atlantic, Gusev made a promising start with 44 (13+31) in 66 games for New Jersey in 2019/20 but struggled to recover that form last term. After failing to upgrade a try-out contract in Toronto over the summer, the dangerous winger opted to return to Russia. He made his debut last week at Jokerit.
Gusev’s debut saw SKA knocked off the top of the Western Conference after losing to its closest challenger. However, Valery Bragin’s team looks impressive so far this season, and big recent wins over Dynamo Moscow (5-3) and Salavat Yulaev (5-0) highlight the Army Men’s credentials. Bragin’s clutch of rising stars – including Marchenko, already something of a scourge of our defense – is doing well, while the experienced Anton Burdasov leads the scoring with 19 (9+10) points, the fifth best return in the KHL.
Spartak Moscow (Oct. 24)
Last season: We had two high-scoring battles with Spartak last term, but unfortunately lost out on both occasions. In October, we lost out 4-6 in Moscow, then the return game saw the Red-and-Whites take a 5-3 verdict.
Familiar faces: Forward Gleb Shashkov swapped Spartak for Red Star last season and had 8 (4+4) points in 30 games with us. That was his most productive season to date. Since then, he returned to his original club but after 13 games and just one assist, he’s currently playing in the VHL with Khimik.
Background: Spartak is firmly embroiled in a battle to clinch a play-off place in the West and looks likely to spend much of this season fluctuating between 7th and 10th in the standings. The team has plenty of proven scoring talent – Sergei Shirokov, Jori Lehtera, Andrei Loktionov and Alexander Khokhlachyov all have a good track record in the KHL, while Dmitry Kugryshev is intelligently pulling the strings behind the goal getters. However, Boris Mironov’s offense has not always caught fire this season, failing to score in four of its 18 games and managing a total of 39 markers. In particular, the power play is problematic with a strike rate of just 13.3%.
At the other end, despite some uncertain performances from Swedish goalie Oscar Dansk, Spartak’s defense is performing well. With 42 goals allowed so far, it, like Severstal, compares well with many teams higher up the standings. Good discipline helps, with Spartak facing just 50 penalty kills, the second fewest in the KHL.