23 December 2022
HC Sochi 0 Kunlun Red Star 3
The Dragons’ encouraging recent form continues with a highly professional victory at Sochi. Facing an opponent with nothing to lose, our guys did all the right things to curb any youthful enthusiasm from our host. Relentless on defense to secure a second shut-out in four games, we also ensured that the lapses of our opponent were punished in full to seal a convincing win.
The opening goal highlighted Garet Hunt’s contribution to the team. Often dismissed by outsiders as a goon, Hunt also possesses fine hockey IQ and the ability to lay a clean hit. Here, he timed it perfectly. Sochi’s defense dithered over taking the puck out of the zone, and Garet pounced, shoulder-to-shoulder, to leave young Dmitry Utkin sprawling. Tyler Wong collected the loose puck and advanced to set up Cliff Pu at the back door for the opening goal.
It was difficult not to feel some sympathy with Sochi. Our host had lost its previous 12 games and found itself down early once again. The day had begun with the Leopards confirming that another of their more experienced players, Andrei Altybarmakyan, was leaving the club to join SKA (Petersburg appears to hosting a collection of former Sochi players this season). Increasingly, Sergei Svetlov is forced to turn to willing, hard-working youngsters. Using them without a strong framework of experienced pros is leading to predictable results.
However, for all the problems beside the Black Sea, our job was to remain professional and avoid any unpleasant surprises on our trip to this popular vacation spot. It’s a tribute to the workrate on the team that our guys did just that. Notably, we kept putting bodies on the line and blocked 25 shots over the course of the game. Jeremy Smith, in his 101st KHL appearance, made 26 saves to record his fifth shut-out for the club. It all added up to a solid return to action for defenseman Ty Schultz (aka Zheng Enlai), who was back in action for the first time since Nov. 12.
If there was room for criticism, it might fall on our forwards. Despite multiple chances in the second period, the Dragons had to wait to extend the lead and put the game out of Sochi’s reach. When the second goal came, though, it was another triumph of experience over youth. Tomas Jurco has done it all in a notable career on both sides of the Atlantic. So, when young defenseman Vasily Machulin was left dawdling on the puck in his own zone, Tomas leapt in. He pickpocketed Machulin and set up Parker Foo with a perfect chance to make it 2-0. Foo got his second of the game, shooting from his own zone to fire into an empty net and wrap up our third victory in three games against Sochi this season.
Today’s win brings back-to-back successes for the first time since October. Moreover, we’re now on three wins from four with a couple of home games to come before the end of 2022. The playoffs are still a tough ask: as of today, our guys remain 10th, six points behind eighth-placed Dinamo Minsk having played two more games. However, it is not an unbridgeable chasm. Moreover, there are signs that the team continues to produce more competitive hockey with each passing week. The remaining games this season promise to be an absorbing battle.