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With Vlasic-Doughty Pairing, Canada's Defense Set

Monday, 02.17.2014 / 5:20 PM / News
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With Vlasic-Doughty Pairing, Canada\'s Defense Set
With offensive dynamo Drew Doughty and the ultra-reliable Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the defensive pairings for Canada are one thing coach Mike Babcock won\'t change heading into the quarterfinals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.



SOCHI --
Canada coach Mike Babcock will not announce his lineup for the quarterfinals until the morning of the game on Wednesday.

But he settled one aspect of the lineup question rather definitively on Monday.

With two goals allowed in three games, both on shots deflected in front, one area of Canada's game Babcock has no trouble with has been his defense.

The pairings of Duncan Keith and Shea Weber, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Drew Doughty and Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo have remained consistent from the moment Canada stepped off the plane here.

Dan Hamhuis and P.K. Subban have been the fourth pair in practice and have alternated in and out of the lineup through three games.

It looks like that won't change any time soon.

"We've got three really good pairs," Babcock said Monday. "I'll be honest with you, Hamhuis and P.K. haven't got much of a chance. I mean the pairs are good. There hasn't been any changing of players there just because they've been real solid."

Hamhuis has dressed for two games and Subban for one. Between them they have played a combined 25:31 in three games, or 8:30 per game.

Hamhuis has one advantage over Subban in that he shoots left-handed and plays on the penalty kill. The left side of Canada's defense is not nearly as strong as the right, so having Hamhuis on the bench gives Babcock an option if one of the top-three lefties is having a bad game. Subban is more of a power play specialist, and not only does Babcock have a number of defensemen to use on the point, forward Patrick Sharp also plays there with his Chicago Blackhawks teammate Keith.

It could be argued that Doughty and Weber have been Canada's best players, let alone its best defensemen, and the St. Louis Blues combination of Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo have been very solid defensively.

If there was one spot where Hamhuis could hope to get some ice time, it would have been slotting in for Vlasic, except he too has impressed his coaches.

"I just told somebody [Monday] morning that Vlasic is way better than everybody knows," Babcock said. "He's a really, really good player; Doughty gets to do anything he wants and Vlasic is always in a great spot. He's a good defender, he's become harder. He used to be a thin kid, now he's a thick man. He's hard, he's smart, he skates, he moves the puck and he's safe."

Babcock's declaration that his existing defense pairings should remain stable is a bigger endorsement of Vlasic's play than anything else he said.

The San Jose Sharks defenseman made sure to emphasize he will not take his spot in the lineup for granted, but he couldn't help but feel some pride over what his coach thinks of his game.

"When it comes from him it's special," Vlasic said. "That he's evaluating your game and finds you're doing well, coming from a coach that's won everything, it's something."

Vlasic played with Doughty at the 2009 IIHF World Championship for Canada and also faces him regularly in the NHL as Pacific Division rivals when the Sharks and Los Angeles Kings play each other.

The big story for Canada has been Doughty leading the team by scoring four of its 11 goals, but having Vlasic as a partner gives Doughty the freedom to jump in the rush as often as he does knowing there is a solid defensive presence behind him.

So, is Vlasic responsible for Doughty's offensive explosion?

"I'd like to say yes, but no," Vlasic said, laughing. "He's a great player. He's good offensively, he likes skating with the puck and he makes plays. It's just like he is in the regular season."

Doughty, on the other hand, believes Vlasic doesn't get enough credit for what he can do with the puck and thinks the partnership has helped him put his stamp on the Olympic tournament.

"He's a good offensive player himself too. I think I'm jumping up too much and he's not having the opportunity," Doughty said, laughing. "He's faster than me, too. I told him, ‘You take off and I'll hold back if you want.' But he's been a great partner. We get along really well off the ice. We talk a lot over things during the game and it's working out."

On a team where the forward lines are in constant flux, Babcock at least has the confidence knowing his defense pairs are solid and stable. With only three games standing between Canada and a gold medal, that is one item to cross off the list of things Babcock has to worry about.

And if there is one thing that has made those defense pairs such a lock, it's been Vlasic's ability to mesh with Doughty.

Author: Arpon Basu | Managing Editor LNH.com

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WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 82 41 38 23 79
J. Thornton 82 11 65 20 76
P. Marleau 82 33 37 0 70
L. Couture 65 23 31 21 54
B. Burns 69 22 26 26 48
T. Wingels 77 16 22 11 38
D. Boyle 75 12 24 -8 36
J. Demers 75 5 29 14 34
T. Hertl 37 15 10 11 25
M. Nieto 66 10 14 -4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Stalock 12 5 2 .932 1.87
A. Niemi 39 17 7 .913 2.39
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