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.

Keep an eye on Oilers’ Slepyshev (the Ducks certainly should)

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The breaks and breakaways frequently went the Edmonton Oilers’ way as they eliminated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of their first-round series. Those results have been more of a mixed bag for Edmonton against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 tonight, though.

Anton Slepyshev is a great example of those ups and downs.

In Game 6 against the Sharks, Slepyshev used his speed to score a breakaway tally that ended up being the game-winner. (See here for those friendly breakaways.)

Slepyshev’s been burning the Ducks with his speed on Wednesday, but the Oilers have been burned in the process. For one thing, John Gibson turned aside this big chance shortly after Ryan Getzlaf gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead:

Later on in that same second period, Slepyshev got a step on the Ducks defense again. This time, he didn’t just fail to score; he took a goalie interference penalty for bumping Gibson.

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being among those hitting posts, it might feel like it’s all against the Oilers this time around, but crossbars/postsanother theme from Edmonton’s Game 6 win vs. San Jose – have more or less balanced out.

And, one break really went Edmonton’s way: a Ducks defender broke his stick on the Oilers’ 5-on-3 opportunity, opening the door for a crucial Mark Letestu goal:

The end result is a 1-1 tie, but give the Oilers credit for not getting rattled. If Slepyshev can keep up his efforts, his speed could be a factor in a series that looks like it could be a real tug-o-war.

Jake Allen takes blame for Predators’ game-winner vs. Blues

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Let’s be honest: the St. Louis Blues owe a lot to Jake Allen‘s work against the Minnesota Wild in that first-round series.

He probably bought himself a significant amount of goodwill for that outstanding work, but Allen isn’t resting on his laurels. He admitted that “a little mistake by me cost” the Blues the 4-3 decision against the Predators, leaving St. Louis down 1-0 to Nashville.

The goal in question was Vernon Fiddler‘s unlikely 4-3 tally, which came after an unsuccessful poke check attempt by Allen:

Now, to be fair, that wasn’t even the only failed poke check that turned into a goal, as Pekka Rinne also got beat after making such an attempt:

Then again, Allen is wise to score points with teammates for taking the blame. As far as his team, head coach Mike Yeo believes that it was the second period that really made the difference.

Regardless, Allen and the Blues hope to carry over the momentum from their third-period dominance in Game 1 to Game 2 to tie the series 1-1.

That contest airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)

Predators survive Blues’ big late push to win Game 1

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The Nashville Predators’ 4-3 Game 1 win against the St. Louis Blues makes it difficult to use “perfect.”

You could get away with using that word, mind you, as the Predators followed up their surprising sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks by going up 1-0 against the Blues in St. Louis. Still, the ride was so bumpy in the third period, it’s probably wiser to focus on the fact that Nashville is unbeaten.

Because, yikes, that third period was a roller coaster for Nashville.

via Natural Stat Trick

P.K. Subban scored a goal and two assists in the first 40 minutes to help the Predators bring a 3-1 lead into the final frame. The Blues absolutely dominated play in the third, however, briefly tying the game as they put immense pressure on Pekka Rinne & Co.

Ultimately, the Predators received a game-winner from an unlikely source in Vernon Fiddler, gaining a 1-0 series edge.

Even so, few will talk about “mystique” after that shaky finish.

For one thing, both Rinne and Jake Allen allowed goals that they’d like to forget. Also, both squads experienced lopsided periods; Nashville dominated shots in the second (15-8) while the Blues almost doubled-up the Preds in the third (11-6).

Nashville also seems likely to play without rising rookie Kevin Fiala, who was hospitalized after an absolutely horrifying crash into the boards.

It was a weird and often wild – sometimes nasty – contest, with the Predators ultimately coming out on top. There’s plenty of intrigue heading into Game 2, which airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)

WATCH LIVE: Second round begins with Predators – Blues, Oilers – Ducks

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Update: With both games likely to run simultaneously, note that Ducks fans can watch on NBCSN in the Anaheim market while the game is also available via streaming links below.

In addition to that, Ducks – Oilers is slated to begin on NHL Network.

This tweet explains it in additional detail.

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The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs is set to begin on Wednesday, and the NBC Sports Group has you covered with wall-to-wall coverage.

We start with a battle of the hottest goalies in the postseason so far as Jake Allen and the Blues host Pekka Rinne and the Predators. The duo of Game 1’s wraps up when Connor McDavid and the Oilers take on Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks 

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online)