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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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  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 ANA 47 31 10 6 139 124 68
2 NSH 45 30 10 5 137 104 65
3 STL 46 29 13 4 148 111 62
4 CHI 47 30 15 2 148 108 62
5 WPG 48 26 14 8 135 117 60
6 SJS 48 25 17 6 131 132 56
7 VAN 45 26 16 3 124 114 55
8 CGY 47 25 19 3 136 125 53
9 LAK 47 20 15 12 129 126 52
10 COL 48 20 18 10 125 137 50
11 DAL 46 21 18 7 144 151 49
12 MIN 46 20 20 6 128 137 46
13 ARI 46 16 25 5 105 156 37
14 EDM 47 12 26 9 109 158 33

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2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 48 24 18 10 42
L. Couture 48 18 24 2 42
J. Thornton 44 10 27 0 37
B. Burns 48 11 24 -6 35
P. Marleau 48 9 24 -10 33
T. Wingels 47 11 14 -2 25
J. Braun 47 1 18 4 19
T. Hertl 48 8 9 -2 17
M. Vlasic 47 6 10 13 16
J. Sheppard 42 4 9 -2 13
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Niemi 19 11 5 .912 2.57
A. Stalock 5 5 1 .905 2.65
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