Wounded Dragons look to bounce back

31 October 2021

Week 10 of the KHL season sees the Dragons continue their road trip before returning for a home game prior to the international break. All three upcoming opponents are in the thick of the battle for a playoff place and, despite being lifted by improved form of late, all three have their weaknesses as Red Star looks to end an unhappy run of eight defeats.

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Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (away, Nov. 1)

Last time out: It’s just a week since we last met in Mytishchi. On that occasion Neftekhimik won 4-2 despite goals from Parker Foo and Tyler Wong.

Familiar faces: Former Dragons’ defenseman Mikhail Sidorov is now a regular part of the Neftekhimik D-core.

Background: Since our game last week, Neftekhimik built on its win with an overtime success at Lokomotiv. That moves Oleg Leontiev’s team to 21 points and puts it in a three-way tie with Sibir and Amur for eighth place. Captain Marat Khairullin continues to play a prominent role: in Yaroslavl he had an assist on a late equalizer before potting the OT winner and there are signs that the defense is improving with goalie Alexander Sudnitsin allowing just three goals in the last two games. Neftekhimik also enjoyed more time to prepare for this game: it finished its most recent road trip lats Thursday at Lokomotiv and Monday’s meeting is the start of its new home stand.

HC Sochi (away, Nov. 3)

Last time out: Back in September we defeated the Leopards in a shoot-out after a 2-2 tie in Mytishchi. Goals from Cory Kane and Brandon Yip cancelled out a 0-2 deficit before Josh Nicholls settled matters in the extras. That result made it three straight wins against the team from the Black Sea coast.

Familiar faces: It promises to be quite the reunion. Swedish goalie Magnus Hellberg is fondly remembered for his performances with the Dragons in 2017/18, while powerfully built defenseman Viktor Baldayev is just the kind of player Sochi’s new head coach enjoys working with. Among the forwards, Martin Bakos and Andrei Bakanov both spent time with our club; Bakos was one of the first group of Dragons to represent Red Star, while Bakanov got his first taste of adult hockey when he joined us last season.

Background: Since we last played Sochi, things have changed. Andrei Nazarov arrived as head coach, replacing Evgeny Stavrovsky after the team suffered a poor start to the season. Nazarov brings a pugnacious reputation – and it may not be coincidence that his 600th game as a head coach began with a big fight when the puck dropped against Avangard recently. However, his uncompromising style seems to have resonated within the locker room: three straight wins last week lifted the Leopards off the foot of the Western Conference and the team has taken at least a point from its last five appearances.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Sochi take more penalties than anyone else in the league – 289 minutes at the last count. That has cost the team 20 goals on the PK, which runs at a moderate 80% success rate despite all the practice it gets. An underwhelming power play (14.6%) is another cause for concern. However, there are signs that Sochi’s defensive frailties are being resolved: in its last three games, the defense has allowed just two goals.

Sibir Novosibirsk (home, Nov. 6)

Last time out: Our first game this season ended in a 0-1 loss in Siberia, with Anton Wedin getting the decisive goal. Wedin has since moved to Dynamo Moscow.

Familiar faces: Popular former Dragon Trevor Murphy is currently on the injured list at Sibir and is doubtful for this game. Alexei Kruchinin, who had a brief spell with us at the start of last season, is available for selection.

Background: A successful home stand lifted Sibir back into the playoff picture – and Andrei Martemyanov’s team claimed some notable scalps as it posted four straight wins. Eastern Conference high-flyer Traktor was blanked in a 2-0 loss, and CSKA’s powerful but unpredictable forward line also failed to score in a 1-0 reverse. Dinamo Minsk and Barys also went down to one-goal defeats, with Jokerit due to visit on Monday at the end of Sibir’s current run of home games.

However, that cannot mask the fact that Sibir has been inconsistent this season. In particular, form on the road has been a concern with just two victories so far away from the Sibir Arena. Scoring is another problem, with just 43 goals so far this season. That’s the lowest return in the KHL and it’s striking that only Nick Shore is into double figures up to now. His 12 (4+8) points places him well clear of his teammates. A lot depends on a reliable defense and solid goaltending – four of Sibir’s nine wins this season have been shut-outs, and only two teams in the East have allowed fewer goals.

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