15 February 2023
Kunlun’s upcoming opponents are in very different places right now. One is celebrating a playoff place, the other is on the verge of missing out. The Dragons’ upcoming games will bring down the curtain on our home program for 2022/23 on Sunday. Before that, there’s a short road trip to Balashikha; afterwards, there’s just one week left.
Vityaz Moscow Region (away, Feb. 16, 1900 Moscow Time)
Last time out: The most recent of our five meetings this season continued the theme of tight games between Red Star and Vityaz. Our guys went down 0-1 in Mytishchi on Jan. 22. The only game between these teams that wasn’t close this season came a couple of weeks earlier when we enjoyed a 4-0 victory.
Familiar faces: Goalie Dmitry Shikin could get the nod against his old team-mates, although Maxim Dorozhko seems to be the current first choice.
Background: Vityaz clinched its playoff place at the start of the week despite going down 2-4 at Neftekhimik. Earlier in Monday’s action, Dinamo Minsk’s loss at Avangard meant Vyacheslav Butsayev’s team was guaranteed a place in the top eight in the Western Conference. Now, the Moscow Region club is looking to win a playoff series for the first time in its KHL history. Thus, it’s not easy to know what to expect in the last few days of the regular season. Butsayev will be keen for his players to keep up their momentum and will also want to finish as high as possible to avoid a daunting first-round opponent. At the same time, though, the coaching staff will surely also have an eye on ensuring everyone is as fresh as possible before the Gagarin Cup campaign starts next month.
Barys Astana (home, Feb. 18, 1700 Moscow Time)
Last time out: Our October trip to Astana – now back to its old name after a few years as Nur-Sultan – was one of the highlights of the season. The Dragons roared to a 5-0 victory, jumping to a 3-0 lead in the first period. Jeremy Smith stopped 28 saves to emulate Matt Jurusik’s shut-out in Omsk just days earlier, while Vince LoVerde scored his first goal for the club. Jack Rodewald, Brandon Yip, Cory Kane and Zac Leslie were also on the scoresheet.
Familiar faces: Tomas Jurco, our leading scorer over the last five games with 6 (4+2) points, was at Barys last season. The Slovak international arrived during the campaign and contributed 11 (3+8) points in 17 regular season appearances before adding two more goals in five playoff outings.
Background: At the time of writing, Barys head coach Andrei Skabelka is on the verge of recording his 300th win as a head coach in the KHL. However, that landmark might not be enough to salvage the Kazakhs’ season. Barys is currently at the foot of the Eastern Conference and faces an uphill struggle to force its way into the top eight. Indeed, by the time the puck drops in this game, Skabelka’s team could already be out of contention. In recent weeks, Barys has been involved in some high-scoring games and typically the final scores have been close – five of the last 10 games have gone to overtime, including a memorable 6-5 win at CSKA, while eight of those 10 were one-goal margins. Unfortunately for Barys, though, six ended in defeat. With the other Eastern playoff hopefuls picking up some form late in the season, that’s pushed Kazakhstan’s team close to missing the playoffs for the first time since 2018.