Can Team Russia’s defense keep up with their skilled forwards?

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We didn’t need yesterday’s line combinations to tell us how stacked Team Russia is up front.

The team’s top two lines have Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin and Valdimir Tarasenko. That doesn’t include¬†Artemi Panarin and Pavel Datsyuk.

With Russia, skilled forwards are never the issue. Their defense is another story.

A pair of Montreal Canadiens lead the way in Andrei Markov (pictured) and Alexei Emelin. Both players bring different elements to the game, but neither one is overly quick.

Dmitry Kulikov, Alexey Marchenko, Dmitry Orlov, Nikita Nesterov and Nikita Zaitsev round out Russia’s blue line.

For this team to be successful (unlike in Sochi), they’ll need this group of defensemen to push the pace from the back.

“We need to make quick decisions with the puck and give it to our forwards because that’s the most important,” explained Orlov, per “We have good forward lines and I think we need to play more in the offensive zone and give our forwards a chance to make some plays and score goals. Tarasenko, Ovechkin and Malkin, all these guys are stars in the NHL, so the quicker you give them the puck, they can make a play and get confidence to play every moment, every shift.”

On paper, it’s simple enough. But it seems to be the blue line that holds them back in most major tournaments.

So, how can new head coach Oleg Znarok make this work?

“Our star forwards have to work in defense,” Znarok said. “Then everything will be OK.”

Like every other team in the tournament, he’ll have to figure out how to get a group of star players to buy what he’s selling.

Every team in this tournament has a number of star players in their lineup, but the one that usually wins it all is the team that comes together quickest.

With the disappointment in Sochi still fresh in everyone’s mind, Russia has an opportunity to prove that they’re still a powerhouse in international hockey. No one doubts the talent, but the ability to come together as a team has been questioned plenty of times.

Would a World Cup win make everyone forget the disappointment in Sochi? No, but it would help put Russia back on the international hockey map.