Defending the high ground

12 September 2023

After the first full week of the KHL season, Kunlun stands tall at the KHL summit. It’s been a great start to the season, and the confidence around the club is growing every day. But a winning start is just that – a start. Now, having got to the top, the next test is to stay there. With three games this week, all against testing Western Conference opposition, the coming days promise plenty more thrills and spills for Viktors Ignatjevs and his team.


Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (a) Sep. 12, 1900 Moscow time; (h) Sep. 16, 1400 Moscow time

Last season: Fixtures between these teams favored the visitors last season. The Dragons won in Yaroslavl for the first time on Nov. 17 when Josh Nicholls gave us a shoot-out verdict. The following month, we did it again: Jack Rodewald’s first-period goal and 47 saves from Matt Jurusik earned a 1-0 victory. In Mytishchi, though, Lokomotiv had the better of things, winning 4-2 and 3-0.

Familiar faces: None

Background: After an express start to the season, Red Star is up against Lokomotiv twice in the next three games. First, we go to Yaroslavl, looking to record a third successive victory at Arena 2000. Then, four days later, we host the Railwaymen in Mytishchi to wrap up a frantic start of eight games in two weeks.

So far, that demanding schedule has suited us well. Four wins from five put the Dragons on top of the KHL standings and included another triumph over CSKA. So, there are good grounds for optimism as the action continues. Our scoring is well shared, with Devin Brosseau (five points) just ahead of a group of players with four each: those names include Brandon Yip, Spencer Foo and Jack Rodewald, who has three goals in his last two games. Defensive efficiency is embodied by Jake Chelios, who leads the team with a +5 rating, while our goalies are doing a great job at stopping pucks.

Lokomotiv’s start has been solid, rather than spectacular. An opening 2-5 loss to Torpedo was a blow, but Igor Nikitin’s team rebounded to beat Traktor in OT then claim a 3-2 verdict over SKA. Forward Artur Kayumov produced a game-winning performance against Traktor and also found the net against SKA, marking him out as one to watch this week.

Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (a) Sep. 14, 1900 Moscow time

Last season: Igor Larionov enjoyed his games against Red Star in his first season as a KHL head coach. The Professor taught us a few lessons as his Torpedo team won all four encounters. Historically, we’ve had a hard time with Torpedo, winning just twice in 17 meetings. But this is a new KRS team, and it’s high time we got a result against this opposition for the first time since Dec. 2020.

Familiar faces: Neither Alexei Kruchinin nor Igor Larionov Jr will have extensive memories of their time in the Dragons’ Lair. Nonetheless, both forwards featured for us during the pandemic-hit 2020/21 season. Between them, they played 15 games and contributed 4 (1+3) points during a turbulent start to the campaign.

Background: Last season, Larionov’s Torpedo earned a reputation for high-scoring, gung-ho hockey. At its best, this team could test any opponent; at its worst, tactical naivety cost it winning positions. This season, Torpedo is going well again and this promises to be a top-of-the-table clash. Our host won its first three games in typically high-scoring fashion: 5-2 at Lokomotiv, 4-3 over SKA and 6-4 against Dinamo Minsk.

Young forward Vasily Atanasov leads the team in scoring. The 20-year-old had 7 (4+3) points from his first three games, placing him second only to Nikolai Goldobin in the KHL scoring race. Dating back to last year’s playoffs, his hot streak is four games. Nikolai Kovalenko (4 points) has also made his presence felt from the start of the season.

The sight of young Russian talent among Torpedo’s leaders speaks to Larionov’s philosophy. After the departure of import forward Kenny Agostino over the summer, the club preferred not to dive into the international market. Slovak goalie Adam Huska remains, albeit sparingly used so far, while Japan’s Yu Sato has yet to dress for a game this term.

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