Kazakhstan – France 3-2 (2-0, 1-1, 0-1)
RIGA – Kazakhstan (17) took advantage of its scoring opportunities while keeping France’s (14) offence at bay to win its opening game of the Olympic Final Qualification tournament Group E 3-2.
Kazakhstan’s victory came thanks to a strong effort in the defensive zone that limited the number of quality scoring chances for France. Talgat Zhailauov scored the game winner in the second period to secure a vital opening game victory for the Kazakhs.
“It was a good start for us, we played strong in our own and were able to get the goals we needed,” said Kazakh defenceman Kevin Dallman.
The third period saw Kazakh goaltender Vitali Kolesnik shut the door on the French through nearly 18 minutes. But with 2:18 left in the game France closed the deficit to 3-2 with a goal coming in front of the net from defenceman Baptiste Amar. Head coach Dave Henderson pulled goaltender Cristobal Huet with 25 seconds remaining for the extra attacker, but France could not complete the comeback.
Following a lacklustre first period, the French offence played stronger in the second frame and came within a goal thanks to a nice play by Pierre Edouard Bellemare, who skated into the Kazakh zone and made a drop pass to Sacha Treille. Treille finished the play with a wrist shot to the top left corner past goaltender Kolesnik to cut Kazakhstan’s lead to 2-1.
But following the goal the French momentum was sapped when Johann Morant was called for slashing, one of two penalties the French defender took in the period. A minute into the power play Talgat Zhailauov put his team back up by two with a wristshot that beat French goaltender Cristobal Huet between the pads.
Kazakhstan controlled the pace through most of the first period, taking advantage of two miscues from Huet to go up 2-0. The first goal came several minutes into the frame from forward Roman Starchenko, who had the puck on the French goal line to the left of the net. Pretending to look for a centering pass, Starchenko instead fired a quick wrist shot towards Huet, which rebounded off the goaltender and into the net for the 1-0 Kazakh lead.
The French attack faded away following the opening goal, and three and a half minutes later Kazakhstan added another when a soft point shot from Kevin Dallman wasn’t corralled by Huet in front of the net. Konstantin Romanov managed to take the puck and flip it over the French goaltender to put his team up by two goals.
“We weren’t able to get consistent control of the puck the whole game, and it hurt our ability to generate offense,” said Team France head coach Dave Henderson.
With a 1W-0L record the Kazakhs will take on tournaments hosts Latvia on Friday, while France will face Great Britain next.
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