MANNHEIM – Six different Czech players scored and Jaromir Jagr added three assists as the Czech Republic opened strongly against France with a 6-2 win on Sunday.
Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun had a far easier afternoon between the pipes than France's Fabrice Lhenry. The Czechs outshot their Group C opponents 41-22 in front of 3,132 spectators.
Forward Jiri Novotny was another standout for the Czechs, earning a goal and two helpers.
Despite working hard, the French simply lacked the physical tools and strategic sophistication to keep up with the 38-year-old Jagr and his teammates. Jagr, who became a Triple Gold Club member with the victorious Czech squad in Austria 2005, is playing in his seventh Worlds. The monstrously skilled winger first wore the colours of Czechoslovakia at the 1990 tournament in Switzerland.
"For the first game of the tournament we played just like we wanted to," said Czech defenceman Michal Rozsival. "We skated, we got a goal in the first five minutes, and we settled in and played a solid game."
It took just 44 seconds for the Czechs to draw first blood. On a nice give-and-go play, Jagr set up Petr Hubacek, who squeezed the puck through Lhenry's legs.
Long stretches saw the Czechs controlling the play with superior puck movement and body position. They went up 2-0 on the man advantage at 11:43 when Jiri Novotny slammed home the rebound off Filip Novak's drive from the line.
Tomas Rolinek was hauled down on a clear-cut breakaway with under seven minutes left in the first period, and the Czechs were awarded a penalty shot. Jakub Klepis was chosen to take the attempt, but the puck dribbled wide when he deked to the backhand.
The Czech Republic grabbed a 3-0 lead at 3:23 of the second when Petr Gregorek's shot deflected off a stick and eluded Lhenry. Less than two minutes later, Karel Rachunek made it a four-goal gap with his team's second power play goal.
Lukas Kaspar extended the Czech lead to 5-0 at 6:06 of the third, but the French didn't stop competing. Just 21 seconds later, Yorick Treille jammed a puck past Vokoun in a goalmouth scramble to spoil the shutout bid. At 8:37, Laurent Meunier cut to the slot and knifed a rising backhand home to make it 5-2.
But there was to be no miraculous French comeback. Miroslav Blatak rounded out the scoring with a power-play blast with 33 seconds left.
"We gave them too much respect and we weren’t prepared to play such a high-speed game," said French forward Pierre Edouard-Bellemarre. "We have to be more focused in our own end."
France also lost to the Czechs in all four of their previous recent World Championship meetings, back in the 1990's. The Czech Republic is seeking its first world title in five years.
Both teams resume Preliminary Round action on May 11. The Czechs will face Norway, while France takes on Sweden.
"We want to play solid defence and create offence off a good forecheck," said Rozsival. "We want to put pressure on their defence and play solid in the neutral zone. That’s the strategy we have."