Clinical forwards + solid goalie = vital victory
Source: Club Press-Office
UGRA KHANTY-MANSIYSK 2 KUNLUN RED STAR 4
Kunlun demonstrated that the winning formula for a hockey team can be a fairly straightforward occasion as it wrapped up its latest road trip with a solid – and much-needed – win at Ugra. For much of the game Red Star kept Ugra at arm’s length, and even the loss of two quick goals late on could not cost the team victory. The result sees our guys bounce back from two defeats and enjoy a four-point cushion over ninth-placed Neftekhimik.
It was a big win in terms of the playoff race, and also a big day for goalie Tomi Karhunen. The Finn, an Oulu native, was one of the first players to sign up for Kunlun during the summer, but he has found opportunities hard to come by. A combination of injury and the impressive form of Andrei Makarov left the 27-year-old with just one appearance in the KHL so far when he helped us to a 6-3 victory in our first home game of the season. Fit at last, equipped with a new Kunlun-colored helmet, and starting only his second game of the season, Karhunen turned away 34 shots to set up his team’s win, only yielding when Ugra enjoyed an extended power play deep into the third period.
Great goaltending is at least half the battle for any hockey team, but even the finest netminder is only part of the story. And today Red Star had the creative talents to pen the decisive chapters of this game at the other end of the ice. Alexei Ponikarovsky opened the scoring in the eighth minute, firing a wrist shot from the left-hand circle low inside Vladislav Fokin’s near post. That was pretty much the only significant action of a cagey first period, but in the middle stanza Ugra woke up and began to work Karhunen harder, only to give up a soft goal.
Our Slovak star Martin Bakos, another player whose time with Kunlun has been hampered by injuries, added the second in the 33rd minute. He picked up the loose puck after home defenseman Grigory Zheldakov stumbled in center ice, allowing Bakos to get one-on-one with Fokin and score his fifth goal of the season. Ugra might have enjoyed more of the attacking play, but struggled to test Karhunen; a high proportion of shots from D-men suggested it was hard to get inside Kunlun’s defenses.
Another defensive error handed Chad Rau his 13th of the season. Anton Kuryanov’s misplaced pass in his own zone went straight to our leading scorer, who needed no second invitation to flash home a shot inside the startled Fokin’s near post. That was the end of the evening for the goalie, and felt like the end of the action for the game.
Not quite: Ugra belatedly rallied and when Tomas Marcinko picked up a double minor penalty the home team finally found a way past Karhunen. Kuryanov atoned for his earlier blunder to make it 1-3 before Roman Lyuduchin made it a one-goal game. Suddenly Kunlun faced a test of character as it looked to close out the win.
But Zach Yuen rose to the challenge, scoring his second goal of the season to seal a 4-2 win. As perhaps the most prominent of the Chinese players on our roster, Yuen is already becoming the local hero of Chinese hockey – and his slaloming rush and deadly shot here will only add to his star status among Kunlun’s ever-growing fanbase.
Victory in Khanty-Mansiysk brings our team’s latest road trip to a successful end, but there are greater challenges ahead for Vladimir Yurzinov and his team. On Thursday, SKA comes to China with its star-studded roster including the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. Can our boys halt Oleg Znarok’s men as they march away at the top of the table?