Roman Josi had a lot of critics after the Nashville Predators’ untimely end in the playoffs last season. And probably for good reason.

Many felt the burden of losing in the 2nd round to the Jets should fall on the shoulders of the defense and goaltending. That group allowed 27 goals in seven games. Roman Josi was a big part of that weakness, finishing the series with only two assists and a -4 plus minus rating.

Also, since he’s the captain of the team, it’s only natural that he receive the lion’s share of the criticism.

Roman Josi Nashville Predators Winnipeg Jets
Roman Josi shakes hands with Connor Hellebuyck after the Jets beat the Preds in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Image via the Tennessean.

But it doesn’t appear last year’s poor playoff performance have affected Roman Josi’s 2018-19 season so far. He’s off to a very solid start, especially in the defensive zone.

Going into Friday’s road game in Calgary, Josi leads the Preds’ blueline in many important shot-based categories. He’s 1st in shot attempt for percentage (54.2%), 1st in shots for percentage (56.1%), and 1st in scoring chance for percentage (57.1%). He also has not committed a penalty through six games.

What does this look like visually? Micah Blake McCurdy’s HockeyViz has the answer.

Roman Josi Nashville Predators
When Josi is on the ice, the Preds allow a lot fewer unblocked shots on their goalie in some important areas.

The blue areas of the ice indicate where the Preds allow fewer unblocked shots with Josi on the ice. The red areas indicate where they allow more unblocked shots.

It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a lot better than anything we saw in the playoffs against Winnipeg. By reducing those shots in the high slot and circle area, Josi is doing his part to help prevent dangerous scoring chances.

Josi appears to be playing much smarter, not harder, in the defensive zone. Too often last year he relied on his speed and skill to make plays, but now he seems to be relying on positioning and vision.

Here’s an example from Monday’s win. After a defensive zone start against the Minnesota Wild top line, Josi quickly gets goal side of Zach Parise. He does so without screening his goalie. Then eventually he beats everyone to the puck behind the net.

Note that he beats attackers to the puck not because of his speed, but because he had good positioning. He doesn’t get ahead of his winger Ryan Hartman who is fighting for possession on the boards. This gives Josi proper angle to the puck.

Here’s one more, a few minutes later. Another defensive start against their top line. The Preds lose the puck off the face-off, but Josi races to the front of the net.

Josi’s position in front of the net protects a dangerous area. It also allows him a better angle to retrieve the puck and clear the zone (while not getting an icing, I’ll add).

How many times did we see the Jets have wide open guys in front of the net in the playoffs? Too many to count.

According to Natural Stat Trick, Josi also has solid possession numbers head to head against dangerous scorers like Mathew Barzal, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan. Last Thursday he broke even against the Jets’ top line with Mark Scheifele, a group that man-handled the Preds last year.

Josi only has two points on the season, but I’m not sure anyone should be concerned about his offensive output. He will get his goals and he should finish with around 50 points on the season.

But it should make everyone happy to see that his defensive play has improved, including Josi himself.

When asked about the Nashville Predators defensive unit‘s main goal for this season earlier in the preseason, Roman Josi’s answer was pretty simple.

“Playing well defensively. That’s our job.”

— Featured image via USA Today — 

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