20 February 2023
It’s the final week of the regular season, and the Dragons have three more games to play. All of them are on the road, and they range from the KHL’s top team this season to the basement club. With Greg Ireland’s men destined to finish 10th in the Western Conference regardless of this week’s results, it might seem that there is little to play for. However, that’s only part of the story: at this stage, we’re already looking towards China’s World Championship campaign in April as well as running the rule over the players who will return next season.
SKA St. Petersburg (Feb. 21)
Last time out: Despite the gap between the teams in the standings, head-to-head games have been competitive. Our last meeting, in Mytishchi in December, saw SKA recover from 0-3 to win in a shoot-out. And our previous trip to Petersburg was another close game; SKA took a 3-2 win on a third period goal from Marat Khusnutdinov.
Familiar faces: None
Background: It’s been a great regular season for SKA. The Petersburg team has led the way more or less from start to finish this term, collecting its third Continental Cup. The next target for Roman Rotenberg’s men is to improve on the 103 points they earned in 2018, the first season when the KHL had two points for a win. With two to play, SKA has 101 points from 66 games.
There’s also plenty of interest in the scoring race. Dmitrij Jaskin is currently top of the charts with 56 (36+20) points. Team-mate Marat Khairullin, on 54 points, is also in contention but there are at least six candidates for top spot as the race enters the home straight.
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (Feb. 24)
Last time out: Our previous trip to Nizhnekamsk came just before Christmas. The Dragons got an early present with a shoot-out win thanks to Zac Leslie. He scored in the game, then potted the winning shot. That game also brought Tomas Jurco’s first goal for KRS.
Familiar faces: Hunter Shinkaruk was a popular figure during his time at Kunlun and he’s currently playing for Neftekhimik. Fellow forward Vyacheslav Leshchenko has also found a role for himself at the Wolves, while defenseman Mikhail Sidorov is another ex-Dragon lining up against us here.
Background: Neftekhimik is still in the thick of a battle for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With three games to play, the Wolves are in eighth place. However, Amur and Traktor are right behind them, ready to take advantage of any slip from Oleg Leontyev’s team. Given Neftekhimik’s awful start to the season – this was the last team in the KHL to win a game – it’s quite an achievement to even be in playoff contention at this stage, never mind being narrow favorites to go post season. Moreover, Neftekhimik did this without resorting to the traditional remedy of firing the head coach. Instead, the club reinvigorated the roster, disposing of underperforming players and putting faith in rising talents. With a week to go, that bold approach may get its reward.
HC Sochi (Feb. 26)
Last time out: After four successive wins against Sochi this season, there was every reason for the Dragons to be confident after opening a 2-0 lead beside the Black Sea. Unfortunately, it all went wrong after that as the Leopards rallied to win 7-2.
Familiar faces: None
Background: There’s little riding on this game except pride. For Sochi, rooted to the foot of the table, a winning end to the season would represent some consolation after a few difficult months. For the Dragons, meanwhile, there’s a pressing need for revenge after that alarming slump on our last visit here. The game also represents the last chance for our record breakers to further improve their stats for the season. Brandon Yip can add to his 42 points, our club’s record single-season total, while Zac Leslie can consolidate his position as our most productive defenseman in one KHL season (currently 30 (8+30) points).
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