“It just makes it so confusing defensively when you’ve got a player like Roman Josi, you just never know where he’s gonna be on the ice.”
Those are the words of Dominic Moore, ESPN play by play voice for last night’s Nashville Predators and Seattle Kraken matchup. He and Leah Hextall were the ire of many Preds fans (and presumably Kraken fans) for their many mispronunciations and mishaps (“Tonner” Jeannot and “penalty bench” for example), but thankfully this article is not about them.
Instead, that observation by Moore led to another observation by yours truly and it had to do with how the Seattle Kraken, and probably other teams, tend to handle Roman Josi.
Forechecking a team’s defense to generate offense
One of the most common ways to cause opposing defensemen headaches, regardless of their skill level, is to put on an aggressive forecheck.
But something I noticed in the Preds’ 4-2 win over the Kraken last night relates to how aggressive that forecheck would get depending on which Preds defensive pair was on the ice.
Real quick hockey strategy lesson. A team forechecks when the opposition has the puck, usually in their own zone, usually in the corner. This generally happens after your team has just dumped the puck, either to go off for a change or because there was no other option.
There are a handful of forechecking tactics that NHL teams use. The 1-2-2 requires one forward (F1) to pressure hard in the corner (“low” in the zone), with the other two forwards staying somewhere above the circles (“high” in the zone), ready to pressure if the puck releases. The 2-1-2 is more rare and usually happens when the forechecking team is down a goal and needs to score: the F1 pressures hard on the puck and an F2 joins him below the circles on the opposite side, usually to prevent the switch pass back to the other defenseman. Then the F3 stays high in the zone, in the middle of the ice, and pressures when the puck releases. The defenseman also pinch early in a 2-1-2, hoping to capitalize on a turnover.
The most important thing to remember here is that 1-2-2 (one forechecker deep in the zone) is only somewhat aggressive and the 2-1-2 (two forecheckers deep) is very aggressive.
What I noticed last night is that how teams forecheck Roman Josi is different from how they forecheck the other Preds’ defensemen.
Roman Josi vs everyone else
Keep in mind, this analysis is based only on the Seattle Kraken game. Perhaps at some point we can do a deeper dive into all the teams and how they play against the Preds, but for now lets focus on the Preds’ latest victim.
First, how did the Kraken forecheck against other Preds’ defensemen. Here’s a quick glance.
Mark Borowiecki & Matt Tennyson
Boro and Tennyson had to deal with two forecheckers most of the night. Notice in the two screenshots how deep those forecheckers are in the zone and also how low the defensemen are pinching down.
That’s a very aggressive F1 right there. The Kraken know that the Preds’ 3rd pairing are its weak point and are looking to create turnovers when they have the puck. To their credit, Boro and Tennyson actually handled the pressure well: no goals allowed with that pairing on the ice.
Mattias Ekholm & Alex Carrier
The Preds’ 2nd pairing of Ekholm and Carrier also dealt with two forecheckers frequently, but not to the extent of Boro and Tennyson. The Kraken quickly remembered that Ekholm is quite skilled with the puck, and Carrier is no slouch either.
In the 1st period, the Kraken were aggressive early on Ekholm and Carrier.
But by the 2nd period, they had backed off somewhat. Even when sending two forecheckers, they rarely both pressured below the faceoff dots.
Jordan Eberle is being particularly conservative here, as he knows Ekholm, a guy who could easily score a goal (spoiler alert) has snuck behind him.
Roman Josi and Matt Benning/Alex Carrier
Now lets look at how the Kraken operated their forecheck with Roman Josi on the ice. Notice how much space the Preds’ defensemen have to work with as compared to above.
Token pressure, nothing else. There is almost no real effort to try to knock Roman Josi off the puck or to push him to turn it over.
Instead, Seattle is playing off of Josi, knowing that he can turn on the jets, skate up the ice willingly, and create scoring chances.
Kind of like what he does here:
This play by Roman Josi is so smart and something he does every night. Recognizing the SEA forward has pressured too low in the zone, he angles up and out of the zone.
Duchene recognizes it > gets him the puck > scoring chance.
From DZ faceoff to shot on net in 8 seconds. pic.twitter.com/d2xpd47SsO
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) January 26, 2022
In that play, the Seattle forward (former Preds forward Colin Blackwell!) got a tad too aggressive off the faceoff. Roman Josi recognized it and peeled up ice. A nice cross ice pass by Matt Duchene and a few graceful strides later and Josi has created a scoring chance the other way.
That’s what Seattle was trying to prevent. That’s why they had to play off of Josi all game. That’s why they couldn’t pressure him like they did Mark Borowiecki, Matt Tennyson and the other Preds’ defensemen.
And that’s why Roman Josi is one of the best defensemen in the NHL right now.
— Featured image via Steve Roberts/USA Today Sports —