Streamlined Dragons enter final Olympic preparations

19 December 2021

The New Year is fast approaching, and with it the KHL’s trade deadline. That means changes for the Dragons. Crucially, the club has successfully negotiated with the Chinese authorities and the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee to enable our players to continue in the KHL without facing an extended quarantine when the time comes to relocate to China for the Games. This means we can keep the bulk of our team together without facing the prospect of assembling an entirely new roster for the remainder of the KHL season while our national team candidates head to their pre-Olympic camp.

At the same time, we are getting a clearer picture of how the Olympic roster might look and that means it’s time to say farewell to several players. It’s not been an easy decision to release these guys, many of whom have been involved with KRS at various levels for several seasons. However, as we look to streamline our options ahead of February, it’s only fair to give fringe players every opportunity to find a new club before the trade deadline. Thus it’s time to say thank you to goalie Alexander Lazushin, defenseman Mikael Tam and forwards Chris Seto, Sammy Hu, Josh Nicholls and Greg Squires, all of whom have left the club ahead of our upcoming home stand.


Salavat Yulaev (Dec. 20)

Last time out: Our last home game against Salavat Yulaev brought an impressive 5-3 victory back in September 2020. However, our only meeting this season was a disappointing 1-5 loss in Ufa with Tyler Wong’s first of the season offering scant consolation.

Familiar faces: None

Background: Our big problem against Salavat Yulaev is usually stopping Teemu Hartikainen. Finland’s all-time leading KHL scorer has an impressive 14 (9+5) point haul from his games against the Dragons. This season, though, Ufa’s cult hero has been a little shy of his devastating best: 21 points from 36 games is a good return, but well down on his 64-in-53 in the last regular season.

With Teemu’s slight decline, Salavat Yulaev’s overall form has taken a buffeting. Tomi Lamsa’s team remains a dangerous opponent in the East but has been unable to maintain its usual consistency. With 12 losses in regulation (and three more in the extras) from its 39 games to date, Ufa is tied for third place in the Conference, but trails leader Metallurg by 10 points. Defensively strong – 76 goals allowed is the best in the section – the offense has not quite reached its full potential so far. However, with Jake Chelios, Nikita Khlystov and Zach Yuen all on the injured list for the Dragons, our defensive options are limited ahead of this game – so any evidence of a sluggish opposition offense will be very welcome!

Torpedo (Dec. 23)

Last time out: The teams are meeting for the first time this season, but our home games against Torpedo last term yielded a 3-1 win and an overtime loss. The win came with goals from Hunter Shinkaruk, Ivan Nikolishin and a first for the club from Alexei Toropchenko. Toropchenko and Shinkaruk were also on target as we tied 4-4 in the second meeting in Mytishchi, only to be undone by Andy Miele’s overtime tally.

Familiar faces: None

Background: This is the first of two games against teams in the thick of the race for a playoff spot in the West. At the time of writing, Torpedo and Dinamo Minsk are locked on 43 points and placed eighth and ninth. So we can expect some high-intensity hockey at Arena Mytishchi in the build-up to Christmas.

Torpedo has good reason to be slightly disappointed with its current standing. A strong summer of recruitment seemed to have David Nemirovsky’s team looking to challenge for the top four in the West, rather than scrap for a ticket to post season. However, things have not worked out as planned. Individually, several of the new signings have delivered: Theodor Lennstrom has 25 points from the blue line, Kenny Agostino has 31 (15+16) in 39 appearances and Damir Zhafyarov, who was late re-acquisition after a summer of uncertainty, is once again atop the team’s scoring.

The problem has been translating individual contributions into results for the team. After 39 games, Torpedo has 19 wins and 20 losses. It’s rare to see the team go on any kind of streak, with a four-game skid in mid-September being the longest sequence compiled so far. True, prior to the international break, there was a three-game winning run and, by the time we meet, that could be extended to four. However, even there, the team’s fundamental unpredictability is clear: that sequence began with an impressive, and unexpected, 5-2 win at CSKA. In its previous game, Torpedo lost at home to basement club Dinamo Riga.

Dinamo Minsk (Dec. 24)

Last time out: Our trip to Minsk in October produced a thriller. After sharing 10 goals in regulation – including first goals for Cliff Pu and Ty Schultz – we lost out in overtime.

Familiar faces: Our D-man Denis Osipov moved from Yaroslavl to Minsk during the 2017/18 season and stayed in Belarus for the following campaign. In total, he played 61 games for the Bison, scoring four goals and eight assists. In the opposition ranks, Taylor Beck is well-known to us after collecting 35 (13+22) in 60 games between 2017 and 2019.

Background: A couple of years ago, we had a Christmas gift from Dinamo Minsk, defeating the Bison 2-1 on Christmas Day 2019. Another touch of festive cheer would be more than welcome this year.

The Belarusians made a strong start to the season and, after a run of nine wins in 10 games from Sep. 27 through Oct. 19, Craig Woodcroft saw his team looking good in the top four in the West. Since then, however, things have been hard work. Illness took its toll on the team, and November brought just two victories and some heavy losses. Things are not improving much in December, with a run of seemingly winnable fixtures yielding just five points from six games.

The problem seems to lie with Dinamo’s defense – after allowing 122 goals, it’s the weakest in the West. Minsk has just one shut-out this season, and since the end of that impressive 10-game run in the fall there are only two games in which the Bison have allowed fewer than two goals. All of which piles the pressure on an offense led by Swedish international Malte Stromwall who has 31 points from 31 games this season.

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