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Frame-by-Frame: The Subtle Art of Not Giving Up a Puck

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The super fun result of rushing the puck without turning it over (AKA The Roman Josi)!

Well, hello there! It’s certainly been a minute… If you remember me, I hope you’re excited to see me back, and to those of you who have no idea who I am, let me introduce myself.

My name is Caroline and I break down and analyze hockey plays, frame by frame. I go over exactly what happened during a particular play—what was executed correctly, what the big mistakes were, who absolutely killed it, who screwed the pooch, etc. I also try to explain player decision making, movement, and positioning, and the impact those details have on the play as it develops. I’ve played hockey for 23 years as a left defender, much like my buddy Roman (who totally modeled his offensive style of play after me; this is completely factual and I will not hear otherwise). I also have my level one coaching cert and coached at the Squirt level while I lived in Boston.

I’m here today to celebrate some of the subtle intricacies of Roman Josi’s offensive game—specifically his vision, skating, and positioning. I noticed this power play rush from Josi during the Chicago game last week and thought it was a solid demonstration of all three, so let’s take a peek.

The first half of this play looks very specifically at how Josi excels at very subtly positioning himself while moving up ice, luring opposing players into the positions he wants. The second half focuses more on how a fluid and well organized power play leads to scoring chances.

Here’s the play. (Unlike most of the clips I pull, this one doesn’t lead to a goal or anything. Sorry.) Keep an eye on Josi, specifically.

Nashville: Roman Josi, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, and Calle Järnkrok

Chicago: Got lazy, didn’t look ’em up, didn’t label ’em, don’t @ me.

We start this rush as Josi, our lone defender, gathers the puck from behind the net and carries it up the ice. He is accompanied by Arvy and Duchene (visible), and Calle and Joey (up ice). Josi is carrying the puck up the ice on his off-hand side, meaning that the blade of his stick (and therefore the puck) is in the middle of the ice instead of next to the boards.

Being on your off-hand puts the puck in a bit more of a vulnerable position when you are approached by an opponent, as it’s less protected than it would be nearer the boards, but when you have the confidence and puck handling skills of Roman Josi, you can use it to your advantage. Chicago is on the penalty kill and they will want to force a turnover as soon as possible, so Josi dangling the puck around in the open as he weaves his way through the neutral zone is absolutely certain to get the Chicago players moving around.

Josi starts his rush by skating slightly towards the Chicago player. When he looks over, Josi is close by, but starting to curve back towards the middle of the ice. The Chicago forward keeps a careful eye on him, but doesn’t commit to anything yet.

Josi then begins to curl back towards that same Chicago player. The opponent sees an opportunity to pressure Josi and—best-case scenario—turn over the puck, and therefore he reciprocates, leaving Arvy uncovered. A second Hawk, the guy near Joey, also sees Josi heading towards his right. So far that Hawk had been hesitant to pull one way or the other, but in response to Josi’s slight movement towards the boards, he pulls a bit right as well—and he prepares to defend.

You can just barely see it happen if you watch him carefully: his right skate/leg (and his hips) open slightly, right as he’s moving over the “GES” (it almost looks like he’s dragging his foot). I’ll include a slow-mo video of the whole neutral zone play below, so you can play with the dial and look for it. Maybe not a game-changing moment, but certainly a fun little Easter egg!

So in that moment, and only with a very muted change in direction, Josi has now pulled a second Blackhawk ever so slightly toward himself, buying Duchene time and space. The first guy continues to bite and is cutting at Josi HARD. Josi holds onto the puck for as long as he can. The moment the puck is no longer safe, he calmly slides it over to Duchene. Joey and Calle both curl to the top of the blue line, where they will cover for Josi while he sets up the power play.

Here’s the slow-mo of that rush and the Chicago player prepping to skate backwards that I promised. (Suuuper professional-level quality of video here...you’re welcome, LOL.)

Duchene carries the puck into the Hawks’ zone as a Chicago defender and the second Chicago forward we discussed collapse on him. Josi is now extremely well positioned to enter the zone and set up a play. He has one forward with him, but that guy can only stick around for so long before he has to get back up to cover the point; the other forward and one defender have already committed to pressuring Duchene; the remaining defender has to stay in front of the net, lest he leave the entire slot undefended. Josi can now slip down into the corner and chill. Quality zone entry here. Really well done.

Like we predicted, while the other defender sees Josi and recognizes his availability as a passing option, he isn’t going to step up to cover him because the Chicago weak-side wing (the man currently on Josi) has kinda left Arvy, Joey, and Calle unattended. That situation will only get worse if the defender follows suit, so instead he parks himself in the slot. This is always the safest move for a defender without a clearly defined target.

Josi’s man hits the brakes so he doesn’t fall too far into the zone, allowing Josi to sneakily scoot on down into the corner. Duchene wins the board battle and comes away with the puck. During most penalty kills, the defending team is forced to leave large swaths of ice open as they shift around as one cohesive unit, and this kill is no exception. It’s particularly large because the Blackhawk tailing Josi dropped a bit deeper into the zone than you want. A better spot for him would be on the big red X, where he, as the weak-side wing, would be able to more easily cut off passing lanes from the puck carrier to his open teammates. He will start to make his way there, but it takes him a second.

If you rewatch the original clip, as I just did, you might notice that at absolutely no point in time does the right defender see Josi skate into the corner behind him. His focus is fully centered on Matt Duchene...until Duchene passes the puck down to Josi. I kinda second-guessed my initial memory of this, going, “Nah there’s no way, he MUST have seen Josi in some capacity...” but noooope. He has no idea.

And then he knows. (“o shit!”)

Josi takes Duchene’s pass behind the net and bounces the puck off the boards and up to Calle Järnkrok. Now that Josi has rushed the puck and established control within the offensive zone, he will make his final transition of the play—the move back to the blue line.

Calle pulls towards the center of the zone, drawing the Chicago forward with him and making room for Josi to creep up the half-boards. Joey starts to shift deeper into the offensive zone. Not only is it smart for Josi to reestablish his presence on the blue line simply because that’s where he is most comfortable, but it’s also a bonus feature for the power play, as it keeps the Predators players shifting and moving throughout the zone. It is always harder to kill a penalty against players that won’t stay still.

Chicago’s kill has shifted from using a box (two forwards high, two defenders low) to a diamond (one forward high, one defender low, and one of each in the middle). Because the Predators currently have just one player by the net, the Hawks are more heavily invested in having multiple players available to defend the slot, as Nashville has been loading up and taking lots of shots from that area this season. Unfortunately for them, that forward is unable to block the passing lane between Josi and Duchene, and their defender is not close enough to Duchene to have any kind of impact on his time and space and decision making once he catches the puck. I assume he was predicting that Josi’s pass would go to Arvy for a shot.

Now, a brief comment on Josi’s decision to pass the puck to Duchene instead of Arvy. While Arvy would probably be able to get off a decent enough shot if Josi gave him the puck, he’s really not in the best position to do so. Using Duchene as the vertex is gorgeous. Your best one-timer options are for (A) a right-handed shooter to receive a pass from across and to the right, and (B) a left-handed shooter to receive a pass from across and to the left (hence why you often see defenders swap spots on a power play... remember how often Weber and Josi would switch around so Weber could tee it up?). Duchene’s positioning allows him to feed Arvy the perfect shot for a one-timer.

Notice too how dramatically (and quietly) Joey and Calle have shifted since the last frame!

Duchene snags the puck and immediately banks it to Arvy, who is just chillin’ in the slot. The Chicago forward (it’s Brandon Saad) had literally one job here: stop Viktor Arvidsson from taking a shot. He failed to do it. I feel for the defender in the slot. It’s a tough position to be in, having to choose one of two (or more, because if I’m him, I’m assuming there’s probably someone behind me as well—sup, Joey) possible options to defend against. This is also why I’m not a huge fan of the diamond kill, as often an almost impossible amount of responsibility ends up being shouldered by the poor sucker in the slot. There’s really just not much you can do when you are physically outnumbered.

And boom goes the dynamite.

(Well, kinda. He didn’t score. Still a great play though!)

Here’s the entire sequence once more, so you can watch it all in action.