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Russian defense looking to step up in Sochi

by Arpon Basu

SOCHI -- When Russia announced its roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the configuration of its blue line appeared to be set in stone.

With two sets of teammates named among the eight defensemen on the team, it would be natural to assume that Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin of the Montreal Canadiens and Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin of the Columbus Blue Jackets would be playing together.

Markov and Emelin have played on the same defense pairing for the better part of two seasons in Montreal. Tyutin and Nikitin haven't played together lately, but they have in the past.

When the Russians hit the ice at the Bolshoy Ice Dome for their first practice as a full team Monday, however, neither of the two natural pairings on defense was together.

"I wasn't guessing or trying to predict who I'm going to play with before I came here," Tyutin said. "My thought was whoever they put me with, that's fine with me."

Markov was paired with Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, a pairing that could be explosive offensively. Tyutin skated with Ilya Nikulin of Ak Bars Kazan in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Emelin wasn't with Markov, but he did skate with someone he is familiar with, his former partner with Ak Bars Kazan, Evgeny Medvedev. Nikitin was with Anton Belov of the Edmonton Oilers.

"There are 25 guys together. It is all one team," Markov said. "Everybody has to be ready to play with each other. We can't say to the coach, 'I want to play with this guy or that guy.' It is his decision and we have to respect that. We have to play that way."

Markov admitted he wasn't very familiar with Voynov's game, but he's impressed by what he's seen.

"I've seen him on TV and we've played a couple times. Mostly I see him on TV," he said. "He looks like [he has] great vision, good skater, good shot, reads the play well. He's a talented, young defenseman."

The focus on the Russian team is on the explosive forwards, but the offensive force of the team might put undue strain on its defense.

When asked what the defense had to do to allow Russia to have success as the host nation at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Tyutin had a very straightforward response.

"Go out and play D," he said. "It's as simple as that."

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