Dragons gear up for crunch clashes

25 January 2023

The Dragons’ next three games are make-or-break for the team’s hopes of making the playoffs. We have home games against Dinamo Minsk and Spartak, two teams currently in seventh and eighth place in the standings. Then we go on the road to Belarus for another meeting with Dinamo before moving on to a tough engagement at CSKA.

With big games ahead, the loss of captain Brandon Yip to suspension is a significant blow. He’ll sit out the first two of these encounters after his major penalty in our recent clash with Vityaz. With Jack Rodewald on the injured list, Greg Ireland will be looking for other forwards to step up and lead the offense in these crunch encounters.


Dinamo Minsk (home, Jan. 26, 1900, Moscow Time; away Jan. 30, 1910 Moscow Time)

Last time out: After suffering a last-gasp 2-3 loss in our first meeting, the Dragons hit back to win 6-2 in Minsk earlier this month. Cliff Pu’s first hat-trick in the KHL led our guys to one of their best results of the season.

Familiar faces: None

Background: Dinamo snuck back into the top eight by the narrowest of margins after an overtime loss at Spartak on Tuesday. The Bison took a single point from that game, joining Severstal on 54 points but moving ahead of the Steelmen by virtue of winning more games in regulation. However, Craig Woodcroft’s players are very much in the thick of a battle to secure a top eight finish and will be all too aware of the consequences of dropping points to the Dragons in these two games.

It’s fair to expect a close game this time. Three of Dinamo’s last five were tied at 60 minutes, and Jan. 17’s 2-0 win over Severstal was the only one to be settled by more than a single goal (and that second goal was an empty-netter with 25 seconds left). That represents a big change for the Bison, with the defense tightening up significantly. Dinamo has given up 166 goals this season, joint worst in the KHL. However, nine goals allowed in the last five represents a big improvement.

Spartak Moscow (home, Jan. 28, 1700 Moscow Time)

Last time out: Spartak’s previous visit to Mytishchi saw KRS win 3-0. Doyle Somerby scored his first for the club and Alex Riche potted his first of the season while Matt Jurusik stopped 37 shots. Later, we suffered a 2-3 loss in Moscow in mid-January.

Familiar faces: Two of our current loan players, Dmitry Kostenko and German Tochilkin, joined us from Spartak. Kostenko has been with us all season, playing 41 games and picking up 4 (2+2) points in his first KHL action. Tochilkin arrived in December, replacing Alex Perevalov after his return to Lokomotiv. Since then, he’s scored his first KHL goals and has 3 (2+1) points from nine games.

Background: Spartak’s season continues to frustrate. The Red-and-Whites hoped that Igor Grishin’s elevation to head coach would bring a more stable run of form. However, after riding an initial ‘new coach bounce’, Grishin finds himself substantially grappling with the same issues that hampered his predecessor Boris Mironov. This is a team capable of alarming defensive lapses, even while it packs a dangerous offensive punch: check out the 4-7 loss at home to Avtomobilist just over a week ago, or the 6-5 shoot-out win in Minsk on Dec. 30.

However, Spartak has a happy knack of picking up wins against fellow playoff battlers. Of its last 10 victories, eight came against teams in the lower half of their conference (the exceptions were both against Lokomotiv, currently pursuing second place in the West). That willingness to target the ‘four-pointers’ helps the Muscovites keep above the trapdoor in this playoff race, but a three-point lead over Dinamo and Severstal is more than a little precarious at this stage of the season.

CSKA Moscow (away, Feb. 1, 1930 Moscow Time)

Last time out: It was all going so well. Our home games against CSKA brought two memorable wins, a 2-1 OT success in September and a dramatic fightback to snatch a 5-4 shoot-out verdict on Oct. 1. Unfortunately, Sergei Fedorov’s team learned from that experience and powered to a 5-1 victory on our first visit to their Moscow home on Oct. 19.

Familiar faces: None

Background: Last season’s Gagarin Cup winner is among the high flyers once again this term. At the time of writing CSKA is second in the Western Conference. However, this season the Red-and-Blues are some way adrift of runaway leader SKA. Indeed, the Muscovites are locked in a four-way battle for second place, with Lokomotiv, Torpedo and local rival Dynamo in hot pursuit.

Recently, long-serving defenseman Nikita Nesterov scored his 33rd career goal for CSKA. That makes him the club’s top-scoring blue liner in the KHL era, overtaking Yakov Rylov. And the 29-year-old Nesterov could take another record from Rylov. He’s currently on 32 points for the season, three behind Rylov’s 2012/13 tally of 35. The Muscovites’ captain has 5 (3+2) points from his last five games, while Konstantin Okulov (7 points) is the most productive player in recent days. Okulov’s 41 (15+26) points makes him the team’s scoring leader so far this season.

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