Battling Kunlun gives league leader a fright

Source: Club Press-Office

01.12.2016

KUNLUN RED STAR 3 SKA ST. PETERSBURG 5

The visit of SKA’s star-studded roster to China promised to be another huge test of the progress Kunlun has made this season – and despite going down to a 3-5 loss, Vladimir Yurzinov’s team showed further signs of progress against one of the KHL’s strongest teams.

This performance was already far more competitive than our 0-3 reverse in St. Petersburg, or the 1-5 thrashing we suffered at home to defending champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk – two games where, in truth, there was a visible gap in class between a roster in its first season together and some of Russia’s strongest and most experienced clubs.

Far from freezing in the face of powerful opposition, this time Red Star was equal to the challenge of competing. For all SKA’s territorial advantage in the first period, the glittering array of talent on offense was struggling to create clear chances around Andrei Makarov’s net. At the other end, Kunlun’s own attacking forays were less frequent, but often generated more dangerous looks at the net … leading to our guys taking the lead in the 15th minute thanks to two recent Finnish acquisitions. Defenseman Tommi Taimi fired a shot that was going narrowly wide but Tomi Sallinen was on the spot to deflect it past Igor Shestyorkin for his first goal since arriving from Neftekhimik.

There were further chances: only a combination of wayward finishing and strong goaltending denied Kunlun a greater lead but, as so often happens, profligacy was quickly punished. An offense stacked with international class is rarely silenced for long and Sergei Plotnikov tied the game after great work from Ilya Kovalchuk and Andrei Zubarev.

The start of the second period ultimately proved to be our downfall. Two goals in two minutes saw Evgeny Dadonov and Jarno Koskiranta pile on the pressure. For a time, it seemed that the floodgates might open, but our defense dug in and gradually Kunlun managed to turn the tide of the game and gain footholds at the other end of the ice. The reward came in the 38th minute when Sean Collins made a great interception and produced a pass that sent Damien Fleury off to the races. The Frenchman made no mistake in his duel with Shestyorkin and we were back in a one-goal game.

After the second intermission hopes were high: a single-goal deficit was nothing daunting for a team that has repeatedly turned games around in the final stanza. But an early penalty on Tuukka Mantyla gave Dadonov the chance to score his second and as Kunlun chased the game the Russian international ace took advantage to complete his hat-trick. It wasn’t quite the end – Mantyla got a late power play goal to keep the pressure on the league leader until the siren – but Dadonov’s quality was the decisive factor for our team.

And so our latest home series starts with a defeat, but hardly a disgrace against one of the powerhouses of the KHL. Next up we play Severstal Cherepovets here in Shanghai on Saturday, with every hope of adding to the misery of a team that has lost its last eight games. Then comes our much-anticipated meeting with CSKA on December 5.