By Jim Diamond
After Monday’s surprise on-ice altercation between Craig Smith and Roman Josi, team captain Shea Weber was asked about his defensive partner uncharacteristically dropping his gloves and fighting.
“He’s a real thumping machine out there,” Weber joked.
But then Weber continued his thought, switching from humorous to serious.
“He’s competitive,” he said. “As much as he doesn’t take penalties or do anything stupid, he’s got a fire to win and he’s going to battle out there in any situation.”
Weber is right about Josi’s discipline. In 72 games played in 2013-14, the Swiss-born blueliner was whistled for just 18 penalty minutes. In 172 career NHL games, Josi has only 40 PIMs.
Josi, 24, missed 10 games last season but was still 22nd overall in the NHL in 2013-14 in total time on ice, playing just over 1,902 minutes. Josi was fifth in the NHL in average time on ice per game last season at 26:25, trailing Weber by 29 seconds.
Weber is the person most qualified to speak about Josi’s effectiveness since when one is on the ice, the other is almost always just a few feet away from him. Last season, when Josi was on the ice, Weber was right there with him 83.8% of the time.
With a lot of the other Predators defensemen playing sheltered minutes last season, Josi and Weber drew the tough assignments, often playing against opponents’ top-offensive lines as evidenced by being the only two Nashville defensemen with positive Quality of Competition numbers.
The team’s top defensive pairing also began a lot of their shifts in the shadow of their own goal. Josi started in the offensive zone just 44.2% of the time, while Weber was even lower at 43.7%.
As surprising as it was for Josi to drop the gloves with a teammate in practice, perhaps it was a sign that the still young defenseman is developing more of a physical edge to his game.