Saturday’s solitary KHL match-up put two struggling teams up against one another. Host Dinamo Riga was looking to avoid a tenth straight loss, while Neftekhimik arrived in Latvia on the back of six successive defeats.
For both teams, making a solid start was essential if the run of misfortune was to come to an end. Dinamo, playing at home for the first time since Oct. 14, looked to apply the pressure in the first period. The home team outshot Neftekhimik 14-6 and spent almost three times as long on the attack — but still found itself behind at the intermission. That was down to a power play goal from Rafael Bikmullin 28 seconds before the break.
The home team continued to press at the start of the middle session and got on level terms midway through. Again, the goal came on the power play and Zack Mitchell, who joined Dinamo from Neftekhimik in the summer, scored on his former colleagues. That’s Mitchell’s fifth goal of the season; last year he potted 17 in Tatarstan.
However, Mitchell’s hopes of putting one over his previous club quickly evaporated. Two minutes after Dinamo’s goal, Bulat Shafigullin made it 2-1 to Neftekhimik. A further minute elapsed before Libor Hudacek made it 3-1 off an assist from Bikmullin. Riga replaced goalie Alexander Lazushin with Stanislav Galimov and prevented any further scoring. However, it was unable to fashion the opportunities it needed at the other end and slipped to yet another loss.
Dinamo remains rooted to the foot of the KHL table. At present, even if the Latvians won their four games in hand on HC Sochi, they would still be last in the West. Neftekhimik moved ahead of Kunlun Red Star at the foot of the Eastern Conference. The two teams meet on Tuesday with the loser destined to occupy the basement.