One week to play

19 February 2024

It’s the final week of the season, and we have just four more games in our 2023/24 program. Two of them are against Sochi, where we’ll be looking to sweep a perfect six victories against our rival from the south. Then we face a SKA team looking to lift the Continental Cup before finishing at the opposite end of the scale with a home game against Vityaz, currently bottom of the Western Conference. At the end of it all, we could secure our highest finishing position in the conference standings since our debut season.


HC Sochi, Feb. 20 (h), 1930 Moscow time; Feb. 23 (a), 1700 Moscow time

Last time out: So far this season, we’ve enjoyed playing Sochi. Four games to date have brought four victories, albeit two in OT. Late last month we went to the Black Sea for a double header and followed a 4-3 overtime success with a 4-2 victory the next day. Luke Lockhart scored four goals in those two games.

Familiar faces: None

Background: These two games will likely determine who finishes ninth in the Western Conference. Does it matter? Well, yes. Although the playoffs are now out of reach, the Dragons could still record their highest finishing position since our inaugural season We’ve already secured our best points haul since 2019/20, a feat also achieved by the Leopards, so there are signs of progress at the club.

Going into the games, Sochi is one point ahead of the Dragons, lifted by back-to-back home wins over Torpedo last week. However, the most recent outing, away to Avtomobilist on Sunday, ended in a 1-2 reverse. Among the team’s leaders, Matvei Michkov is closing on Artur Tyanulin at the top of the scoring charts. Meanwhile, 26-year-old Daniil Seroukh, playing his first KHL season, hit a rich vein of form lately, scoring in four consecutive games. That takes his career goal tally to seven.

SKA, Feb. 25 (a), 1700 Moscow time

Last time out: Although we’ve lost all three games against SKA so far this season, results have been getting closer. Last year, we suffered 2-6 and 3-6 reverses, but in January we held the league leader to a 1-3 scoreline on home ice.

Familiar faces: None

Background: This will be our first visit to SKA’s new super arena. The 21,500 capacity SKA Arena, which staged the KHL All-Star Game back in December before hosting its first competitive action this month, is reckoned to be the world’s biggest hockey venue. So far, it’s proving a happy home for the KHL leader: an 8-1 win on opening night was followed with further successes against Lada, Salavat Yulaev and Torpedo. That said, the Dragons have form when visiting new arenas: last season we were the first visitor to win at Avangard’s new home.

As for the game, it’s sure to be another tough test. SKA is looking to finish the regular season in first place and form suggests the Petersburg club is sure to be a major contender in the playoffs this year. At the time of writing, Roman Rotenberg’s players have the best defense in the KHL, allowing 129 goals so far. It’s also one of the most productive attacking forces, with scoring 209, second only to Spartak. Marat Khairullin has been the driver of that offense in recent games, while defenseman Alexander Nikishin has a league-leading 54 points from the blue line.

Vityaz, Feb. 26 (h), 1930 Moscow time

Last time out: After a 2-1 loss early in the season, the Dragons have since defeated Vityaz twice. A 2-0 win on Jan. 31 was followed by a 4-2 success at the start of this month. Luke Lockhart scored twice, and Tyler Graovac potted the winner against his former club.

Familiar faces: Graovac sent his former colleagues a reminder when we met in February, with a power play goal midway through the second period proving to be decisive. The Vityaz roster includes a couple of ex-Dragons in the shape of goalie Dmitry Shikin and defenseman Ruslan Pedan.

Background: This season rather petered out for Vityaz. The Balashikha team was in the hunt for a playoff place up until New Year, but just four wins in 2024 saw that prospect evaporate fast. Goals have been a problem, and the current tally of 129 is the lowest in the KHL this season. The 216 allowed at the other end haven’t exactly helped, either.

Things might have been different had Scott Wilson not missed almost half the season with injuries. Once fit again, the center formed a handy partnership with Derek Barach. Fellow import Jeremy Roy is second in team scoring despite playing on defense. However, overall, there simply hasn’t been enough firepower, with too many players failing to match the kind of production that saw Vityaz reach last year’s playoffs.

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