Tough tests ahead

18 October 2022

After the Dragons defeated Spartak 3-0, Greg Ireland immediately warned that the upcoming tests would be tougher. Our head coach wasn’t kidding. We’re on a four-game road trip that starts at defending champion CSKA then takes in table-topping SKA. Formidable stuff.

That said, this season has proved that Red Star has nothing to fear from reputations. We already have two wins against CSKA, and stunned Avangard in its own building barely 10 days ago. More importantly, as Ireland said after the Spartak game, we have a group of players that is determined to keep improving. That is why we can approach these upcoming games with due respect to the opposition, but with belief that we can ruffle more feathers this season.

There’s a personal milestone to consider as well. Brandon Yip overtook Jaromir Jagr the other week when he became the first player aged over 37 to score a goal in six consecutive KHL games. The goal streak ended in our 3-0 victory over Spartak, but Yipper got an assist to stretch his productive run to eight games.

Goaltender Matt Jurusik is also on a hot streak. His last two games were shut-outs and he’ll be looking to extend that run. Fellow goalie Jeremy Smith, meanwhile, followed up Juice’s first blank of the season with a perfect game in Astana – ‘hold my beer!’ – and will be looking to keep pace in the friendly rivalry between our netminders.

CSKA Moscow (Oct. 19, 1930 Moscow Time)

Last time out: Once again, you remember this one. Alex Perevalov’s big day, with our young forward grabbing two late goals to wipe out a 2-4 deficit before sealing a sensational shoot-out win over the defending champ. That made it two victories over CSKA in less than two weeks and kickstarted our current run of promising form. That said, we’ve found thing tough on our visits to Moscow. Last season we lost 1-4 at CSKA, and you have to go back to Oct. 2018 for our last victory here.

Familiar faces: None

Background: There has been talk that CSKA is missing its title-winning mojo. The first six weeks of the season saw the Muscovites endure some mixed form, with losses against teams they would normally expect to beat. However, the defending champion is showing ominous signs of getting into its game. The last five games brought five victories, all of them on the road, culminating in a 3-1 derby success against Dynamo. With the Blue-and-Whites riding high in the Western Conference, that was a result with greater implications than local bragging rights. Vladislav Kamenev is playing a big role in the winning streak, with 4 (3+1) points in his last five games. Meanwhile, the scoring is shared around on this team at the moment, which promises a busy evening for our defense.

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SKA St. Petersburg (Oct. 21, 1930 Moscow Time)

Last time out: In late September we entertained SKA and found ourselves on the wrong end of a 6-3 scoreline. However, that game brought a first KHL goal for Garet Hunt. It was also a big improvement on last season’s heavy losses against the current league leader.

Familiar faces: None

Background: If death and taxes represent the two certainties of life, SKA at the top of the Western Conference might be third on the list. The Petersburg team has finished top of this section five times in total, most recently last season. Meanwhile, the start of the 2022/23 campaign suggests that this perennial powerhouse will be up there once again. SKA has lost just twice all season, and last week’s loss at Lokomotiv is the only time it has left a game without taking a point.

In-form players include Vasily Glotov, who has taken off since returning to his first club from Sochi. Marat Khairullin, a summer signing from Neftekhimik leads the team in scoring, while Czech international Dmitrij Jaskin is always a goal threat.

Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (Oct. 23, 1700 Moscow Time)

Last time out: We only met Torpedo once last season, going down 0-4 on home ice. Goals have been hard to come by against this team in recent years, with the Dragons failing to score on their last two visits to Nizhny Novgorod.

Familiar faces: Igor Larionov Jr made his KHL debut with Red Star in 2020/21, playing five games and collecting two assists. After that, he played a few games in Sweden last season before joining his father at Torpedo in the summer. In addition, Alexei Kruchinin, who currently shares top spot in team scoring with Denis Yan, also featured briefly in that 2020/21 season, scoring once in 10 games.

Background: This game might have brought us the first ever on-ice clash between a Japanese player and a Chinese team in the KHL. Unfortunately, Yu Sato picked up an injury and is unlikely to feature for Torpedo. Sato is typical of the team that Igor Larionov is building in Nizhny Novgorod. The Professor is keen on fast, skilled players with a commitment to attacking play. Over the summer, Larionov raised eyebrows when he said his teams had little interest in winning one-goal games and for a time it was clear that Torpedo was playing on the front foot. The first 15 games brought 50 goals, and sell-out crowds on home ice.

However, the last road trip was a struggle. Torpedo scored just four goals in four games, picking up a shoot-out win in Ufa amid losses in the Urals and Kazakhstan. Apart from Kruchinin and Yan, rising star Vasily Atanasov is one to watch. In his rookie season, the 20-year-old has 7 (4+3) points from 15 games.

Vityaz Moscow Region (Oct. 25, 1900 Moscow Time)

Last time out: Despite all of our problems last season, we enjoyed our games against Vityaz. It was a Foo family special on home ice, with Spencer and Parker scoring three of our goals in a 4-2 win. Then, on what would be our last trip to Podolsk, the brothers did it again as we battled back from 0-2 to win 3-2 after a shoot-out.

Familiar faces: Vityaz goalie Dmitry Shikin was a popular figure during his time in the Dragons’ Lair. He joined us from Sochi ahead of the 2020/21 campaign and put in a huge amount of work that season, facing 1,200 shots in 36 games. Impressively, he stopped 90.6% of them, an amazing return on a struggling team. Ironically, his goaltending partner at Vityaz, Igor Saprykin, was also on our books that season but his only appearance in our colors came on Oct 21, 2021 in a 2-4 loss to Neftekhimik.

Background: It’s not easy to get a handle on Vityaz this season. Vyacheslav Butsayev’s team began with four straight wins to settle into its new home in Balashikha. Then it lost six in a row. Next came another four-game winning streak. The only consistent feature seems to be inconsistency. Perhaps that isn’t such a surprise, though. Vityaz is typically in the thick of a fight to grab a playoff place and its current position of seventh in the Western Conference is nothing unusual for the club. Indeed, this season Vityaz is one of our biggest rivals in the playoff battle, so this game should be an important yardstick for our progress thus far.

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