It was a positive start to the 2019-20 KHL season for Kunlun Red Star as the only China-based team secured a hard-fought victory over Salavat Yulaev Ufa.
Former NHL players highlighted those among the scoring as Kunlun Red Star earned an impressive 4-3 shootout victory over Salavat Yulaev, a team that reached the conference finals last season.
The Chinese club enters the 2019-20 season with hopes of reaching the playoffs after back-to-back disappointing seasons. A strong start to the new season can buoy the spirits of the players and help them push forward in a positive way.
While head coach Curt Fraser is no stranger to hockey in the middle kingdom, having taken over the role from Jussi Tapola halfway through the 2018-19 season, it will be his first leading the team from the start. With this in mind, Fraser has worked hard to build a team that will be hopeful of picking up even more significant results as the season progresses, with a number of former NHL players looking to play significant roles.
Gilbert Brulé, who was the team’s top points producer (17G, 19A) during the 2017-18 season before a spell with Sibir Novosibirsk, was the hero in his team’s opening game. Brulé scored the game-winning goal in a shootout and had an impressive three assists during regulation.
The Canadian centre saw plenty of time on the power-play alongside the likes of Wojtek Wolski and Adam Cracknell, who both earned goals while with a man advantage, but averaged just over 16 minutes of total ice time.
With Wolski, who partnered Brulé while at even-strength, scoring two and Cracknell having a goal and an assist, Red Star look to have some real offensive talent entering the new season.
An Olympic bronze medallist with Team Canada in 2018, Wolski will be hoping to contribute more than the 13 points (five goals, eight assists) he produced after moving to China part-way through last season.
The 33-year-old winger has plenty of valuable experience under his belt that will help Fraser enter his first full season in charge of the club, with the American’s other additions this off-season also setting the team up for more success.
Andrej Sustr, who had an assist in Red Star’s opening day victory, also provides some valuable NHL experience along the blueline. The 6-foot-7, 216lbs right-handed defenceman starts alongside Jake Chelios on the bottom pair. Having strength further down the depth chart will help Kunlun Red Star throughout the long season ahead, but focus will be something that Fraser needs to address.
Two third period goals saw Red Star give up a 3-1 lead and potentially ruin what was a strong start to the season. Luckily the team held strong and managed to push the game all the way into a shootout, where Brulé’s over-the-shoulder shot secured his team a victory that will have them believing that can progress and compete in this league.
There is a lot of hockey yet to be played this season, but the 2019-20 Kunlun Red Star are off to a great start and will be hoping for many more positive results under Fraser.
Second Game Slump
Kunlun Red Star followed up their opening day win with a disappointing 2-0 loss to Salavat, in large part due to a lack of discipline. The Chinese club was unable to follow up their impressive first victory with 37 penalty minutes compared to the Russian club’s two.
The opening game will have set expectations among the fanbase and within the club’s hierarchy, so the team’s disappointing return the very next day will have been a bitter pill to swallow.
While the loss is one the club will want to forget quickly, Curt Fraser certainly has a solid base to build from as the season progresses. The two opening games will have allowed the American coach to gauge his team’s ability and will give him plenty of game film to mull over and assess.
What do you think though hockey fans? After such a positive opening day victory, followed up immediately with a very disappointing loss, will Kunlun Red Star get some momentum going and reach the playoffs this season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Feature Image Credit: (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)