One thing that should be added, subtracted from NHL '11 (Part I)

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stickbreaks.jpgNo doubt about it, one of the best ways to get through the hockey-free summer is to play (and wait for upcoming) hockey video games. The most popular series is EA’s “NHL” games with NHL ’11 coming in September. As we await its release, I thought I’d discuss some features I’d like to see in the game and some I wish were thrown out in the development cycle.

This could be a short-lived series or it could go a little further. That all depends on what kind of responses it receives; if you’d like to see something taken out (or added) to the game, please let us know in the comments. Apologies, also, to all non-dorks out there.

One thing I’d love to see in NHL ’11: “icon” passing/defensive switches

When I play defense in NHL ’10, I feel my inner Ken Hitchcock emerge (if I had a sweet mustache to stroke during intermission breaks, I would). Instead of going for the big hit every time, I wait back like a nerdy polygonal panther and allow my opponent to make a mistake. When I do go for a hit or get aggressive, though, I prefer to take that risk with a forward rather than a defenseman.

That’s where things get a little hairy. You see, there’s no way (that I know of, at least) to switch to the exact player you want on defense. Passing is similar, too; the game decides where you intended to send the puck. Most of the time, it guesses correctly, but when I can’t switch to a forward in a dangerous defensive situation … well, it’s not pretty. Let’s just say I devolve into a 13-year-old kid who used to scream at Video Game Kerry Collins for yet another interception.

The funny thing is that EA is a company that either invented or at least popularized the concept of passing to the exact player you want in the Sega Genesis/SNES “Madden” era. I faintly recall each wide receiver getting his own window with a button assignment in those early days of sprite-based graphics.

It would be a simply change, too. I looked at the game’s controller scheme and saw one button on the controller that rarely (if ever) is used: the “back” button. It’s located to the left of the middle X-Box thing and the start button. Why not allow players to click “select/back” and then choose whom exactly they want to pass to or switch to?

I am but a reasonable man.

One thing I’d like to see removed: Broken sticks

OK, it might not be completely fair to turn my back on this before I see it in action. After all, Electronic Arts really nailed “board play” in NHL ’10, a “realistic” element I was a little weary of.

There’s only one problem: while it adds heightened reality, there’s nothing fun about broken sticks. It’s honestly an annoying issue for the sport itself, but imagine this scenario for a second. You’re on the powerplay in a tie game. Perhaps your friends wagered some money on the outcome. Or maybe your reputation as the coolest person alive is on the line. (All realistic scenarios, naturally.) You find yourself in a great situation for a booming Chris Pronger point shot when – out of nowhere – his stick breaks and the other team scores a shorthanded game-winning breakaway. After you flip over your coffee table, kick your dog and break a controller, you realize that your significant other cannot look you in the eyes anymore. Ultimately, you turn off your console embarrassed and wronged.

Who wants that, huh? Don’t do it, EA. I’m begging you.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”