From the summit to the East

7 November 2023

The Dragons are on the road again this week with three games on schedule. First, it’s a short trip from our adopted home to Moscow to face current KHL leader Dynamo. Then we’re heading to Central Asia to take on Barys before arriving in Siberia where Avangard awaits.

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Dynamo Moscow, Nov. 8, 1930 Moscow Time

Last time out: Turner Ottenbreit potted his first goal for the Dragons, but that wasn’t enough to prevent a 2-3 loss on home ice at the start of October.

Familiar faces: Teemu Pulkkinen swapped Minsk for Moscow in 2018/19. He went on to play 42 times for the Blue-and-Whites, scoring 15 goals and assisting on 11.

Background: Dynamo is the one remaining KHL team that we’ve never beaten – and with the Muscovites sitting proudly at the top of the overall standings, it might seem like a tall order to put that right just now. Alexei Kudashov’s players celebrated some milestones recently: Nikita Gusev became the youngest man to score 200 KHL goals, and is close to overtaking Geoff Platt and breaking into the all-time top 10 snipers in the league. Veteran forward and fellow 2018 Olympic Champion Ilya Kablukov played his 1,000th top-flight game last week and celebrated with a goal in a big win over HC Sochi.

That said, despite our tough times against this opponent, recent encounters have been more competitive. Our last visit went to a shoot-out and our early-season meeting was another one-goal game. Plus, as we’ve shown a few times this term, our Dragons often produce their best performances against in-form opposition – whether that’s beating defending champion CSKA or, more recently, a shoot-out win that halted Neftekhimik’s five-game hot streak.

Barys Astana, Nov. 10, 1630 Moscow Time

Last time out: We have happy memories of our last visit to Kazakhstan, which ended in a 5-0 victory powered by three points from Brandon Yip. Earlier this season we battled back from 0-2 to force a tie in our home meeting, but lost in a shoot-out.

Familiar faces: None

Background: Arguably, Barys is the season’s biggest underachiever. There are teams with fewer points, but perhaps none that have failed to live up to their potential quite so badly. On occasion, we’ve seen glimpses of what the Kazakhs could do – an 8-0 hammering of Neftekhimik early in the season might have been a launchpad for bigger things. All too often, though, the team looks to be less than the sum of its parts.

And some of those parts are doing well. Riley Barber, the big summer import signing, took an early lead in the KHL scoring race. He’s not managed to hold that exalted position, but is still running at a point a game. David Sklenicka is fifth in scoring among defensemen thus far. However, it’s all going wrong on defense, with Barys allowing more goals than any other team in the Eastern Conference. The lesson seems clear: get on the front foot, and goals will surely follow.

Avangard Omsk, Nov. 12, 1400 Moscow Time

Last time out: This was another one of our fightback games. Down 0-2 in the 22nd minute, the guys tied it up at 2-2 and then 3-3. However, a goal 11 seconds from the end of OT gave Avangard a tight verdict in Mytishchi on Oct. 1.

Familiar faces: With 23 points, Ivan Nikolishin was fourth in team scoring for the Dragons in 2020/21. Now, after a successful spell at Amur, he’s with the Hawks and has 8 (4+4) points this season.

Background: The Hawks have quietly played their way into some form of late. Mikhail Kravets’ team is on a four-game winning streak, and beat some tough opposition along the way: Torpedo at home, then SKA away before back-to-back wins in the extras at Sochi and Minsk. That run lifts the team to fourth in the East, just two points behind leader Lada.

An explosion of scoring form from the top line has been key to that recent success. Vladimir Tkachyov is the architect of all that, with eight assists in his last five games. Partners Ryan Spooner (3+6) and Reid Boucher (4+4) are the main beneficiaries of his efforts and between them the trio has 27 points. At the other end, Andrei Mishurov is making his case as the starting goalie with Ilya Proskuryakov injured and Vasily Demchenko suffering an indifferent run of form.

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