1 November 2021
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 3 Kunlun Red Star 5
It’s always darkest before the dawn, and after some painful soul-searching following Saturday’s big loss, the Dragons roared back with a memorable win at Neftekhimik. Three times the guys came from behind in this game, before goals from Brandon Yip and Mikhail Abramov secured our first victory since October 9.
Head coach Ivan Zanatta made changes after our unhappy trip to Yekaterinburg at the weekend. We had a new-look top line, with Yip and Tyler Wong joining Spencer Foo while Luke Lockhart was shuffled onto a nominal fourth line with Greg Squires and Alex Riche. Zach Yuen, who was elevated to the first line at Avtomobilist, joined Mikhail and Sam Hu on line three. Jeremy Smith continued in goal, uncomplainingly shouldering a big workload in the on-going absence of Alexander Lazushin.
Once into the game, it was clear that the guys’ talk of putting Saturday behind us and focusing on better things to come was not just empty words. After a disappointing failure to compete last time out, this was much better. The only difference between the teams was the home power play, which opened the scoring in the ninth minute on Evgeny Mityakin’s point shot. That goal was cancelled out before the first intermission by our reworked first line: Wong and Yip rekindled their mutual understanding to cut open the home defense for Yipper to pot his seventh of the season.
More penalty trouble had us under pressure at the start of the second stanza, and after killing a 3-on-5 situation, we were undone while Neftekhimik had a one-man advantage. Pavel Poryadin was the scorer this time as the host regained the lead in the 22nd minute.
Once again, though, the Dragons roared back – and this was a special moment for Mikhail Abramov. The 22-year-old is a long-serving product of our club, working his way through the system to make his KHL debut this season. Today was his final appearance on a three-game try-out contract, and he could hardly have found a better time to grab his first goal at this level. It was a classic poacher’s effort, forcing the puck home from the slot after Lockhart also had a hack at the rebound from Ethan Werek’s shot.
Unfortunately, the youngster’s big moment was not enough to transform our fortunes in the game. Midway through the second period Neftekhimik regained the lead with yet another power play marker. This time it was Yegor Popov who found the net, with Marat Khairullin continuing his productive run with an assist on the play.
Late in the second period, Neftekhimik thought it had increased its lead. However, the net was off its moorings before the puck crossed the line and the goal was ruled out. That came at a cost for Red Star, however. Josh Nicholls was penalized for moving the net and, nine seconds later, Nikita Khlystov followed him into the box for interference and the home team had a great chance with a 5-on-3 power play. However, some brave defense from our guys ensured that we reached the intermission unscathed and had just a few seconds left with a one-man shortage at the start of the third. It felt like a turning point after so many games when anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
Going into that final stanza, the message was simple: stay out of the box. Playing five-on-five, the Dragons were more than a match for Neftekhimik. The home power play, though, had been hugely effective in the first two periods and it would be unwise to offer more opportunities as we sought a way back into the game.
And that way back opened up when a holding call on Ansel Galimov gave our PP the chance to set up. We had not enjoyed too many opportunities with an extra man in this game, but this time the power play executed perfectly, setting up Foo for a rocket of a shot from the top of the left-hand circle to tie the game once again.
Almost immediately a delayed penalty gave us another chance and once again our guys made the most of a man advantage. This time it was 6-on-5 as Yip fired home his second of the game to put us in front for the first time on the night – and indeed, the first time since we opened the scoring at Severstal on October 19.
Suddenly, victory was in sight – and Abramov restated his case for a full contract on the team when he grabbed his second of the game to give us a two-goal cushion that we maintained until the hooter. A display of great character and a welcome return to scoring form snapped a dismal eight-game losing streak and brought about an immediate change in the body language of everyone associated with our club. It’s all smiles tonight!