Crime and Punishment – Kunlun’s power play scourges Sibir

Source: Club Press-Office

19.11.2016

KUNLUN RED STAR 3 SIBIR NOVOSIBIRSK 1     

A second-period surge lifted Kunlun to a valuable victory over one of its biggest rivals for a playoff place as Sibir became the latest team to run into trouble in Shanghai. Struggling to cope with the host’s high-octane hockey, Andrei Skabelka’s team was hit with a string of penalties and Red Star’s power play did the rest.

Going into Saturday’s encounter the teams were finely poised: a win for Sibir would put the Siberians level on points with Kunlun as a cluster of clubs jockeyed for position around the dotted line that separates the top eight from the also-rans. By contrast, a home success would give a six-point cushion over the chasing pack, allowing Kunlun to look at overtaking fifth-placed Traktor rather than glancing anxiously behind.

It was also a clash of two in-form forwards. Kunlun’s Chad Rau had been among the points in his last six games, while the visitor’s Sergei Shumakov had scored in his last four. The defense that proved capable of snapping one of those streaks seemed likely to end up victorious.

With much at stake, the first period was a cagey affair. Both teams took their time to settle into their rhythms and get a feel of the opposition. It looked to be drifting to the first intermission without a goal, but Maxim Shalunov found space around the face-off spot late on and unleashed a one-timer to give Sibir a slender advantage.

But head coach Vladimir Yurzinov found the right formula during that intermission. Kunlun came out for the second period and raised its game to a new level. Our team showed greater energy and desire than the opposition, and not for the first time this season we deservedly turned the game around. Three unanswered goals, and a shot count of 19-4, indicated Red Star’s dominance of the middle stanza.

A beautifully-crafted goal in the 26th minute tied the scores: Tobias Viklund’s pass turned defense into offense, Igor Velichkin slipped the puck to the wide-open Alexei Ponikarovsky and he crashed home a one-timer for his second goal in Kunlun colors.

The workrate remained high: killing a penalty, Sean Collins harried visiting goalie Danny Taylor into an error behind the net and forced the foul. It was the start of a string of Sibir trips to the sin bin that ultimately gave Kunlun a five-on-three advantage in the closing minutes of the middle stanza. And Red Star exacted the maximum punishment to go into the second intermission with a 3-1 lead.

There was some uncertainty about Rau’s go-ahead goal. The American flashed a one-timer off the inside of the post with Taylor beaten. His team-mates appealed for the goal but play continued until Tuukka Mantyla crashed home a slapshot about 30 seconds later. Then it was back to the video to confirm that Rau’s shot had indeed crossed the line and the clock could wind back to 38:35. Rau’s recent tally improves to 8+4 from seven games, instrumental in Kunlun’s move firmly into the playoff places.

If Mantyla felt hard done by at seeing his own effort airbrushed from the history books, the Finn showed little sign of it. Instead he joined his colleagues in pressing for a second goal from the power play and quickly reminded Sibir’s defense that it is unwise to give him a shooting chance. Back out at the point, he powered in another effort on Taylor’s net and Janne Jalasvaara was on hand to apply the decisive touch for 3-1.

That left Red Star in control of the game, and well on the way to taking three vital points of one of its biggest rivals for a playoff place. The tactics changed again, with the emphasis on denying Sibir a way back into the game. Chances were few at either end, although Linus Videll perhaps came closest with a shot off the frame of the goal in the closing minutes as Sibir killed yet another penalty.

The hooter heralded a second successive home win and brought an end to the latest home series. But the playoff battle does not let up: on Wednesday Kunlun travels to Astana, a familiar destination from pre-season, where Barys is also in that playoff race. Then it’s on to Avtomobilist and Ugra, two more teams striving to climb into that all-important top eight.