Aivis Kalnins Aivis Kalnins
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Dinamo Riga is back on the road - this time to fight against their nemesis of this season - Severstal Cherepovets. It’s hard to imagine a harder game to play than the one Riga would have to get through tonight, a four-point duel and them going through massive changes. Riga is without their head coach - Sergei Zubov who stepped down in the morning when the team had to fly to their first destination of a two-game road trip.

Zubov’s assistant Valerijs Kulibaba had been assigned as the interim head coach without having much big-league hockey experience. The team is also without their leading forward - Nikolajs Jelisejevs who is out with an injury and didn’t travel with the team. Although they entered the game with a five-game point streak this felt like a reset and a new chapter where they would have to fight an uphill battle. Severstal had won both of the previous two meetings this season - 2:1 in OT and 2:0 in regulation and would be a motivational factor for their opponent.

You could see how important the game was as the game began - both sides were determined and ready to play some hockey. Quick pace end-to-end hockey with both sides pressuring up high. Initially, Severstal was more dangerous with the puck. On one of the rare occasions when Riga attempted to take the lead Severstal’s Nikita Makeyev was assigned to the penalty box for cross-checking - their defensive efforts were fine enough not allowing Riga a whole lot.

Riga’s power-play didn’t change anything in the game - both sides controlled the puck but Severstal still had the advantage when it came to being an offensive threat. An often sin bin guest Emile Poirier once again ended up visiting his seat - as did their opponents, the visitors also used their sound defense to kill off the penalty.

The game once again leveled and both goalies had to get involved to keep their net empty and they stood perfect - first Johan Mattsson had to get involved to stop his opponent and then on the other end puck jumped from the boards right onto the stick of Rudolf Ceverny, Konstantin Shostak neutralized the situation as well. Netminders were perfect, forwards couldn’t get the job done meant a 0:0 after twenty minutes of game action.

The game tempo and action remained the same early on - yet Severstal once again had the slight advantage as they forced Mattsson to freeze the puck twice in a short span. The home side tried to control the puck for as much as possible in the offensive zone trying to force Dinamo to get tired and maybe catch them in a situation where the far bench is a disadvantage. Riga’s goalie often had to freeze the puck in order to allow his teammates to switch up the lines.

The visitors focused mainly on counter-attacks but on multiple occasions were caught off-side or with an icing call against them. Mattsson and their defense had a lot of work and with Severstal not being able to crack them. The scenario changed - Severstal began to mix up their game at times shooting at the first opportunity. Once Riga had their best scoring chance yet - some rough stuff broke out, both team players decided that the way to go was to push one another after Daniels Berzins aggressively approached Severstal’s goalie who had the puck all to himself and the game was stopped.

What was noticeable as compared to previous meetings - both teams were really disciplined. As the bottom half of the second period approached Riga saw their first real flashes of offensive play. After a superb chance, young Riga defenseman Patriks Ozols received a two-minute interference penalty and that brought Severstal the first goal of the game - a shot from the blue-line by Khokhlov allowed Joonas Nattinen to redirect the puck into the net for 1:0.

Riga wasn’t going to give up and their pressure led to a power-play of their own late in the second - they couldn’t put the puck in the net but that wasn’t the end to the man advantage as it would carry over for the start of the third but even with the fresh ice sheet it wasn’t enough to help them tie the game.

Tikhonov stepped on the ice from a line-change and got sent back to the penalty box giving Dinamo back-to-back power-plays. Unfortunately for Riga, Reece Scarlett defaulted the man advantage taking a slashing penalty to send both sides to play four-on-four hockey. Both sides returned to full strength without any chances on the scoresheet.

Riga was given many opportunities and yet another came from a too-many men penalty by Severstal - once again they couldn’t capitalize and continued to trail behind. Shorthanded? Riga still tried - Gints Meija tried to run away but was tripped and the referee crossed his arms in the air signaling for a penalty shot - Rudolf Ceverny tried to deke the goalie out of his crease but Shostak used his stick to get the puck away and neutralize the situation.

Dinamo followed up with another penalty giving Severstal a 5-on-3 man advantage which was enough to seal the deal - a combination that left an empty right side of the net for Vovchenko to put the puck past Mattsson for 2-0.

After the game and his KHL debut as the bench boss, Valerijs Kulibaba wasn’t happy but couldn’t say a bad word about the performance of his team. ‘’In general, it was a good game, the first period for us was the best. In the second period, we allowed too many mistakes. We really did play well, but couldn’t capitalize on our opportunities. I can’t blame the players for anything.’’ On his appointment as interim head coach he was blunt: ‘’There were no other options, everything happened prior to our arrival here so, for now, we’ll work as it is.’’ also admitted that the team stuck to the game plan they had prior to Zubov's departure.

Lukas Radil admitted that the game was hard: ‘’It’s never easy against these guys. They play very well defensively which is why it’s hard to get scoring chances let alone to get a goal. We obviously had opportunities to score, I had two myself that went unused. Mattsson always gives us a chance and lets us stay in the game but without scoring goals, you can never win.’’

Emile Poirier was on the same page with Radil about not taking advantage of scoring chances: ‘’We had them but we didn’t score. We wanted to get the victory in Kulibaba’s debut but unfortunately, we couldn’t manage to do it. We will do our best to do better in the next game. There are a lot of good things to take from this game that we can use against Jokerit.’’

Aivis Kalnins Aivis Kalnins
exclusive for khl.ru

Related clubs

Dinamo (Riga) Dinamo (Riga)
Severstal (Cherepovets) Severstal (Cherepovets)
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