3 January 2022
We didn’t get the end to 2021 that we wanted, but a new year means a new start. For the Dragons, it’s a chance to end our current losing streak and bounce back from that painful loss in Helsinki before the holidays. Refreshed and renewed, Ivan Zanatta and the guys are looking forward to four home games to kick things off in this new, Olympic year. Once again, though, we have some tough tests to come, with the leaders of both conferences heading to Mytishchi, along with the KHL’s most improved team of the season.
SKA (Jan. 4)
Last time out: Our trip to Petersburg was one to forget this season, as we suffered a 0-7 reverse.
Familiar faces: None
Background: SKA ended 2021 by defeating Admiral to return to the top of the Western Conference standings. Valery Bragin’s team has not always been at its swaggering best this term and suffered an unprecedented six-game losing streak in November, but when the Army Men hit top gear they can be devastating. We witnessed that at first hand in our earlier meeting, and the likes of Neftekhimik (2-8), Admiral (2-9) and even high-flying Metallurg (1-5) have endured heavy losses against the team from Petersburg.
In normal circumstances, we’d be talking about several youngsters missing from the home roster while they helped Russia at the World Juniors in Canada. However, the unexpected cancellation of that tournament means that the likes of Matvei Michkov, Marat Khusnutdinov, Fyodor Svechkov, Nikita Chibrikov and Kirill Kirsanov could all be available this week. Even without them, there’s plenty of talent throughout this team – sufficient for the club to be able to release Linden Vey and Ivan Morozov, both of whom scored on us earlier in the season, from a roster which seems to remain buoyant through any reshuffle.
Severstal (Jan. 6)
Last time out: Our trip to Cherepovets on Oct. 19 ended in a 1-2 reverse as the Steelmen recovered after falling behind to Jason Fram’s goal.
Familiar faces: Defenseman Nikita Khlystov left the Dragons just before the trade deadline and returned to Severstal, where he played in 2019/20. Since that move, he’s played twice and contributed two assists in victories over Ak Bars and Dynamo Moscow.
Background: Severstal is one of the success stories of the season. Andrei Razin’s unassuming young roster has played its way into the race for a top-four finish in the West, upsetting several traditional powerhouses along the way. The line-up is not exactly stacked with household names – although even at the end of last season 19-year-old Nikita Guslistov had records for the youngest captain and youngest hat-trick in the KHL – but a solid team is being forged in Cherepovets.
Much of the success comes at the back: the Steelmen’s defense has allowed 104 goals, placing it firmly in the top half of the league. Offensively, a haul of 110 tallies is less impressive but, with three goalies in consistently good form when called upon, it’s enough to ensure this team is competitive in every game. Daniil Vovchenko leads the scoring with 27 points, but the points are shared around this team. At various times in the season we’ve seen the likes of Adam Liska, David Dumbadze and, currently, Kirill Pilipenko get hot. The latter finished 2021 on a tear, potting five goals in five games.
Traktor (Jan. 8 and 10)
Last time out: We’ve had two trips to Chelyabinsk already this season, and collected one point from an overtime loss on Dec. 6. Spencer Foo’s short-handed goal at the start of the third salvaged a tie in that one.
Familiar faces: None
Background: Traktor was expected to do well this season, but not many would have backed Anvar Gatiyatullin’s team to end 2021 on top of the KHL standings. Indeed, Chelyabinsk can already prepare for the playoffs, its place officially secured last week before it moved into top spot in the East. So this promises to be a challenging double header against an impressive opponent.
Much was made of a good summer’s recruitment, but this team has been driven by familiar players hitting new heights. Nick Bailen, a long-serving defenseman, is enjoying one of his finest seasons and currently leads the KHL’s blue-liners in scoring with 41 (6+35) points. More notable, perhaps, those 35 helpers place him second among all players for assists, with only the metronome-like regularity of Vadim Shipachyov’s production keeping him from top spot. Elsewhere on the roster, Nikita Tertyshny is having a great season, plundering 21 goals as he cements his status as a rising star. Czech duo Tomas Hyka and Lukas Sedlak remain as consistent as ever, despite Hyka’s season being disrupted by injury, while another return from the prodigal Vitaly Kravtsov adds a bit of flash and dash to a well-rounded roster. The deadline day addition of former CSKA defenseman Artyom Blazhiyevsky adds a bit more strength at the back; he joins Bailen, Lawrence Pilut and Albert Yarullin on a very imposing top four.