2K Sports will release Wii-exclusive 'NHL 2K11' two weeks early, on August 24

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nhl2k11kesler.jpgIn case you haven’t heard, Electronic Arts’ NHL series dominance over 2K Sports’ own NHL 2K games reached so far that 2K’s upcoming “NHL 2K11” will only appear on Nintendo’s Wii console. In many ways, it seemed like a move inspired by the fact that EA never made a hockey game for the Wii before; perhaps 2K Sports thought it could have a “monopoly” on polygonal pucks on the best-selling “next generation” console?

If that was the strategy, it backfired because EA is planning on launching a Wii-exclusive called “NHL Slapshot.” They’re rolling in guns blazing, too, with Wayne Gretzky as the cover star and a mini-hockey stick controller that could turn some heads if it works well. (Click here for more on the upcoming game.)

Perhaps 2K is concerned about “NHL Slapshot” because Operation Sports reports that “NHL 2K11” will be released on August 24, a week or two earlier than the traditional early September window for hockey video games. While release dates are often subject to change, it seemed like the original plan was to release 2K11 on September 7, the same release date as EA’s Slapshot. (NHL ’11 is also rumored to come out on September 7.)

While it might be wise for 2K to try to get a leg up on EA’s foray onto the Wii, I can’t help but sense a little desperation on their part, too. You have to wonder if the company’s hockey titles are in danger of going extinct, much like their NFL2K games (although this time it would be because EA is clobbering them in the quality and sales department instead of just signing an exclusive licensing agreement, like they did with their football games.)

ESPN’s Jon Robinson interviewed Ben Bishop of 2K Sports regarding the changes gamers should expect to see from 2K10 to 2K11.

Ben Bishop: There are the Wii Motion Plus controls, but it’s not just that, I think the controls changed a lot in general. You have a lot more options, and with the Wii Motion Plus control, you have direct one-to-one control over everything from stick lifts to actually lifting the puck up, juggling it, and performing trick shots. And if you’re a fan of the game from the 360 or PS3, you can actually play the game using classic controls and play the game the way you’re accustomed to. So you have a lot of options to really treat this as a simulation game if you want to. We think there is plenty of room on the Wii to have a good simulation sport, so you can play the game on the Wii as you would on the other consoles.

On the flip side of the coin is our Road to the Cup mode and how we let you bring your Mii characters into the game and let them play through some mini-games that are all hockey based. This is something that is popular on the Wii, and it’s a great thing to do when you have some buddies over. It’s something you can play through pretty quick and you don’t have to be great at the sport of hockey or at the simulation aspect to have a good time with it.

One other tidbit Bishop shared is that Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin will be the three highest rated players in the game. It’s far from surprising, but for people who might be a bit obsessed with that sort of thing, there you go.

Will a two week sales head start help 2K Sports stick with EA’s splashy debut on Nintendo’s system? We’ll just have to wait and see about that.

PHT Morning Skate: Sharks name stray cat after captain Joe Pavelski

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–The stray cat that ran onto the ice prior to Game 1 between the Sharks and Preds has been named after Joe Pavelski. (Associated Press)

–Speaking of that black cat, here’s a mountain of pucks shaped like the cat. (The Score)

–When Lukas Head was younger, he played with Steven Stamkos and P.K. Subban. Here’s his story. (Toronto Star)

–Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Stars and Blues. (Top)

–A look behind the scenes of the NHL draft lottery. (Canadian Press)

–Two-time Olympic gold medalist Sharon Szabados loves curing and the Oilers and she was forced to make a tough choice on Saturday. (Sportsnet)

Pascal Dupuis, who was named one of the Masterton Trophy finalists, is adjusting to retirement. (NHL.com)

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta