24 December 2021
Kunlun Red Star 0 Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod 4
Jeremy Smith’s Herculean effort this season continued with another busy night for our goalie. He stopped 49 shots in Thursday’s home game against Torpedo, continuing a sequence that saw him make 45 saves against Metallurg and 49 against Salavat Yulaev in recent games. Altogether this season, Smitty has stopped 667 shots in 20 games for an average of 33.5 saves per night. Smith ranks 14th in the KHL in terms of saves made (and 11th in terms of shots faced) but in each metric, no goalie ahead of him has played fewer than 28 games and many are well over 30 appearances this term. That’s why we call our goaltender the hardest working man in hockey.
Legendary goaltending, though, is only half the story. While these feats of endurance have done plenty to give us a chance to compete in games, it’s fair to say that on Thursday the rest of the team struggled to match Smith’s contribution. A first period that yielded just two shots at visiting goalie Alexei Murygin was a case in point: the effort was not lacking, as evidenced by 13 blocked shots in the opening frame, but there was nowhere near enough play going the other way to trouble the opposition. It took 21 saves to keep the game scoreless at the interval.
However, under that kind of pressure, goals inevitably start to flow. Torpedo hit three in the middle frame, with Damir Zhafyarov scoring one and assisting on two more. In the midst of all that, our best chance fell to Alex Riche. Initially, he was hooked back as he bore down on Murygin’s net; Artyom Mikheyev’s foul reduced a great for an equalizer to a puck dribbling harmlessly wide of the target. The officials awarded a penalty shot and Riche picked himself up to take another shot, only for his experienced opponent to shut down the space and force him to shoot wide of the target. Instead of quickly cancelling out Zhafyarov’s opening goal, the Dragons continued to trail and soon the game got away from the guys. The third goal rather summed up our fortunes, taking a crazy deflection on its way into the net with the box scores giving Andy Miele the credit he barely deserved.
Neither the scoreline nor the balance of play offered much hope of a recovery in the third. And, much like the opening session, Torpedo continued to dominate proceedings. Our D-core continued to battle resolutely, blocking another nine shots and taking our total for the game to 30. Smith made a further 20 saves. At the other end, though, Murygin was barely troubled on his way to a first shut-out of the season. Late in the frame, Sergei Goncharuk combined with Artur Tyanulin to score the best goal of the game but, overall, this was one to forget for the Dragons.
Happily, there’s every chance to put today’s disappointment behind us quickly: tomorrow we’re back in action against Dinamo Minsk in another battle with a team scrambling for position in the Western playoff race.