The road trip continues: a narrow loss in Tatarstan
Source: Club Press-Office
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 2 Kunlun Red Star 1
After a win and a loss on the road to start the season, Kunlun headed to a Neftekhimik team looking to continue its impressive pre-season form make it three wins out of three. Our hopes were not enhanced by a two-game suspension for Brandon Yip, who had two points in his first two games but was penalized following a review of an incident in Thursday’s game at Ak Bars.
Yip’s absence was not the only change: goalie Tomi Karhunen, such a stabilising presence last season, got his first start of this campaign after spending the opening two games on the bench. He was pitched into action right away as Neftekhimik had the better of the opening period, outshooting us 9-4 but failing to find a way past our Finnish netminder. Ildar Shiksatdarov came closest, hitting the frame of the goal, but Kunlun created dangerous opportunities of its own. The best of them fell to Konstantin Makarov after Marek Daloga played him in behind the home defense, but Ilya Ezhov made a fine sprawling save to keep the scoresheet blank.
Level at the first intermission, our team had something to build on in the middle stanza, but all the plans laid in the locker room were torn apart just 30 seconds into the period when Neftekhimik snatched the lead. Dan Sexton’s pace caused problems for our D, and after Karhunen padded away his shot, Robin Hanzl was on hand to score on the rebound. Then Sexton struck again, racing through centre ice and picking out a shot that flew through the awkward spot over Karhunen’s glove to double the lead.
Kunlun regrouped and found a way back into the game late in the second period when Brandon DeFazio got his first goal for the team. Cory Kane wrestled for possession on the boards, Andrei Kostitsyn fired in a shot and DeFazio was on the spot to force home the rebound and make it a one-goal game once again.
That prompted Neftekhimik to shut down the game in the final stanza. Head coach Andrei Nazarov admitted that his emphasis had been on cutting out errors in the third period, and his players managed to do that in the face of some hard work from our guys. With chances hard to find at either end of the ice, the points eventually went to the in-form host – but the early pace-setter in the Eastern Conference knew that it had been in a real battle.
Saturday’s game also reacquainted us with one of the stars of last season. Chad Rau made a name for himself in Beijing with 40 points in the regular season before moving to Nizhnekamsk in the summer. Right now, he’s still settling into his new role on Neftekhimik’s first line, playing alongside Sexton and Hanzl. Tonight, he had three shots on goal, but could not beat his old team-mate Karhunen.
Next up, it’s a trip to Salavat Yulaev, a game that marks the midway point of a seven-date road trip at the start of the season. It’s a tough opening, but the fighting qualities shown so far suggest that our onward journey won’t be fruitless before we return to Beijing on September 9.