One last road trip

18 December 2022

We’re coming to the end of 2022, and that means it’s time for the Dragons’ last road trip of the year. The guys are off to Tatarstan, with a detour via Sochi on the way home, in search of points to finish on a high before the New Year holidays.

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Ak Bars Kazan (Dec. 19, 1900 Moscow Time)

Last time out: It’s more than a year since we last faced Ak Bars, but our previous meeting was a spectacular one. The Dragons went to Kazan in Sep. 2021 and rallied from 0-3 to grab a memorable 4-3 victory. Luke Lockhart’s goal nine minutes from the hooter completed a rousing recovery in Tatarstan.

Familiar faces: None.

Background: It’s been a tough season for Ak Bars. Expectations were sky high in the summer when a combination of high-profile acquisitions and much-titled head coach Oleg Znarok promised to blow away the competition in the Eastern Conference. However, a stellar roster has stubbornly failed to gel and Znarok left the club with the team down in seventh place in the standings. Along the way, we’ve seen some surprising decisions: youngster Ilya Safonov unexpectedly served as captain for a time, partly in response to Vadim Shipachyov’s poor form. Safonov is one of several players returning from international duty at the weekend, which might bring further selection posers from interim head coach Yury Babenko and his colleague on the bench, Zinetula Bilyaletdinov.

Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (Dec. 21, 1900 Moscow Time)

Last time out: Neftekhimik has lost on both its visits to the Dragons’ Lair this season. In October, our guys took a 4-3 verdict thanks to Devin Brosseau’s game winner. Then, last month, a high-scoring encounter ended in a 7-4 victory. Brandon Yip grabbed a hat-trick in that one as Kunlun hit five unanswered goals in the third period.

Familiar faces: Hunter Shinkaruk got his first goal of the season against us in that 4-3 game. Defenseman Mikhail Sidorov also featured for the Dragons in seasons past. Among our guys, goalie Alexei Murygin made his KRS debut in the 4-3 win against the team where he started this season.

Background: Neftekhimik has been a tough team to call this season. The Wolves began with a long losing streak, bounced back to compile a winning run, then settled into a spell of alternating a couple of victories and a couple of losses. Inconsistency starts at the back: with 126 goals allowed in 39 games, Neftekhimik has the most generous defense in the Eastern Conference. Prior to the December break, Oleg Leontyev’s team picked up a couple of 3-2 home wins, including an impressive success against Metallurg. The season has also brought victories over SKA, Ak Bars and CSKA, but the flip side has seen Neftekhimik lose heavily to Amur among several losses against opposition struggling to get into the playoff positions.

HC Sochi (Dec. 23, 1930 Moscow Time)

Last time out: We’ve enjoyed two victories over Sochi so far this season. In September, two goals from Parker Foo paced a 3-1 success. Then November brought a 5-2 victory, with Brandon Yip scoring twice.

Familiar faces: Sochi forward Mikhail Abramov played 21 games for the Dragons last season, collecting 6 (3+3) points. However, he is currently on the injured list and unlikely to appear this week.

Background: Rock bottom Sochi parted company with head coach Andrei Nazarov between its first two games against the Dragons. However, the introduction of Sergei Svetlov has not made a big impact on the Leopards’ results. The Black Sea club remains rooted to the foot of the standings and recent weeks have seen several senior players leave the club. Clearly, the rest of this season is about rebuilding for Sochi. Svetlov seems keen to give young players experience of the KHL in the hope of honing a core of prospects who can form the basis of a more competitive team next term. The Dragons will need to be alert to the threat posed by Dmitry Zavgorodny, who scored on us in both previous meetings this season.

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