Da Costa helps France bounce back
by Andy Potts|05 MAY 2018
France's Stephane da Costa (#14) celebrates with Anthony Rech (#81), Damien Fleury (#9) and Kevin Hecquefeuille (#84) after scoring a goal against Belarus.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
French captain Stephane da Costa led from the front, potting a goal and two assists as his team downed Belarus 6-2 in Copenhagen. The experienced forward, currently playing with Geneve-Servette in Switzerland, enjoyed his afternoon against several opponents whom he would have encountered during his three-year KHL stint with CSKA Moscow.
Both countries had suffered on the opening day, with France losing 0-7 to Russia before the Belarusians went down 0-5 against Sweden. And it was the French who recovered fastest, inflicting another big defeat on a Belarus team that once again failed to produce the kind of finishing required at this level. Alongside da Costa, the French had goals from Damien Fleury, Loic Lamperier, Antonin Manavian, Anthony Guttig and Jordann Perret; Alexander Pavlovich and Pavel Vorobei scored power play goals in reply.

Da Costa was delighted to prove a few points after his team's tough start - and was also encouraged to see goals coming from all quarters in a big win.
"It was a lot more important than yesterday," he said. "Yesterday, I think the opponents were way better than us. It was a tough game, and the result was a little too embarrassing, a bit too much. So this was a very important game for us. I think we played desperate hockey and it was a good game for 60 minutes.
"In big games, we need goals from everyone, from the fourth line like the first line. Those goals are huge for us. That’s why we got a nice win like this today."

Belarus kept faith with Ivan Kulbakov despite benching him during last night’s 5-0 loss to Sweden. Once again, though, the young goalie was destined to have a shortened game, lasting less than 14 minutes as France jumped to a 2-0 lead despite finding itself under pressure for much of the first period. Kulbakov was unlucky with the opening goal, punished by Fleury after flapping at a da Costa shot. Fleury’s attempt pinballed off the post and the back of Kulbakov’s skate on its way into the net. France had the lead from its first meaningful attack of the game.

The second goal showed da Costa at his best, collecting the puck in his own zone and setting off with only one destination in mind. Carving through centre ice, he slalomed past Kitarov and Stepan Falkovski before scoring with a shot that clipped Kulbakov’s shoulder. Dave Lewis had seen enough; Mikhail Karnaukhov came into the game. France would finish the first period with two goals from six shots.
France vs. Belarus
FRA BLR 05 MAY 2018
If Kulbakov’s inauspicious start to World Championship action was a problem for Belarus, there were more difficulties at the other end of the ice. Against Sweden and again tonight, the team was creating opportunities. However, as many had anticipated, a forward line lacking in championship experience also lacked a cutting edge. The introduction of two players from national champion Neman Grodno, Artyom Levsha and Artyom Kisly, had little impact on the offence. When the Belarusians finally got a goal back on the power play late in the opening frame, it was greeted with more than a little relief. Captain Pavlovich was the scorer, reacting fastest after a Pavel Razvadovski shot was charged down and whipping in an effort of his own that took a slight deflection on its way past Florian Hardy.

Hoping that its goalscoring problems were now behind it, Belarus continued to press at the start of the second period. However, it was still struggling to generate the kind of goal action that could get it back into the game. Razvadovski went on a short-handed breakaway but the Yunost Minsk man was foiled by Hardy, then Dynamo Minsk youngster Yegor Sharangovich took a swing at a looping puck and saw it clip the outside of the post as it squeezed wide of the target.

At that point, the game was in the balance. French defenceman Yohann Auvitu was surprised how comfortably his team won it in the end. "We needed to respond after that 0-7 loss yesterday," he said. "We knew that today was a big game to stay in the top division for next year. We did the right thing from the first minute to the last, but I wasn't expecting to win 6-2 to be honest.

"There wasn't so much to say [after the loss to Russia]. You just look at yourself in the mirror, go back to basics. Obviously we were playing against a monster, the Olympic champion. It's hard to compete but I still think we can do better than we did last night. We had to answer and I'm happy that we did tonight."

But the French steadily raised their own attacking game and got the reward late in the stanza. Once again, it wasn’t the prettiest of goals: Karnaukhov was left scrabbling around his crease after Valentin Claireaux’s shot and the puck dropped for Lamperier to backhand it through the five-hole. And the game was put out of reach early in the third when a 5-on-3 power play presented France with a fourth goal: da Costa’s point shot touched past Karnaukhov by experienced D-man Manavian.

Belarusian blue liner Dmitri Korobov admitted that his team is now ensconced in a relegation battle - and one made all the more intense by Austria's point from its opening game against Switzerland. "We hoped to compete for a quarter-final place," he said. "Instead we face a fight to stay in the elite division. We're missing big players, like the Kostitsyns, who have the kind of passing that helps to unlock defences. But we'll have to keep going with the roster we've got."

To put some gloss on the final scoreline, France added a fifth through Guttig, shooting home from between the hash marks to become the second Rouen Dragons player on the scoresheet. The only blot on the occasion for Les Bleus was a late power play goal fired home by Pavel Vorobei after a string of minor penalties after Guttig's goal. It had little impact on the outcome: Perret put away the rebound from a Guillaume Leclerc shot to complete a 6-2 victory. France moves to 1-1; Belarus still needs to look closely at their attacking options after managing just two goals - both on the power play - in 120 minutes of hockey. Today, despite out-shooting the French 40-30, the team was on the end of another lopsided scoreline. It doesn't get any easier, either: next up, it’s Russia on Monday afternoon. France’s next game is against Sweden that evening.
France vs. Belarus