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.

Matthews to sit out preseason tilt versus Sabres, as Maple Leafs give him ‘a little break’

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. But No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews won’t be in the lineup, according to multiple reports.

“Sooner or later, he’s going to get in, but not tonight,” said assistant coach Jim Hiller, as per the Toronto Sun.

“The lineups are day by day. They (World Cup players such as Matthews, Milan Michalek, Leo Komarov and James van Riemsdyk) went through a solid three weeks. It’s a little break, a little down time. There are tons of games coming. They’ll get a lot of ice time. They’ll get in shortly.”

(The report also notes that Matthews is not dealing with a health issue, which is obviously good news for the Leafs.)

On a night when the No. 2 overall selection Patrik Laine is slated to make his preseason debut for the Winnipeg Jets, fans wishing to see Matthews don a Maple Leafs jersey in his anticipated debut will have to wait.

Matthews played for Team North America at the World Cup held in Toronto. He had two goals and three points in three round robin games, but the young North American team was unable to advance to the semifinal round.

The Maple Leafs play the Montreal Canadiens at home on Sunday.

McLellan: Maroon’s lower-body injury not considered serious

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It appears Patrick Maroon‘s injury from Wednesday’s preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks looked worse than it is.

The Edmonton Oilers forward was in obvious pain immediately after he went hard into the boards from an awkward hit delivered by James Sheppard just past the midway point of the third period. Maroon needed help to the bench and was unable to put much, if any, pressure on his left leg.

He left the game and didn’t return.

Good news, however, from the Oilers: Head coach Todd McLellan told reporters on Friday that the injury — lower body — is not serious, as per the team’s Twitter account.

According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, the 28-year-old Maroon is expected to be ready for Edmonton’s season opener against the rival Calgary Flames on Oct. 12.

The Oilers acquired Maroon at last season’s trade deadline, a move that certainly added size and an element of grit to their group of forwards.

In 16 games with Edmonton, he scored eight goals and 14 points. In 56 games with Anaheim that same season, he registered only 13 points before the trade.

Patrik Laine to make highly anticipated preseason debut for Jets

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Patrik Laine gives an interview after being selected second by the Winnepeg Jets during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Anticipation has been building since the Winnipeg Jets officially took Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft.

On Friday, Laine, the highly coveted Finnish forward, will make his preseason debut for the Jets when they play the Edmonton Oilers in Winnipeg, as the home fans get the chance to take in the occasion.

The Jets have done a nice job of amassing good young forwards in their organization. Laine, who has the gifts to be a prolific scorer in the NHL, is at the top of that prospect list.

Winnipeg’s roster tonight also includes forward prospects Kyle Connor, Nic Petan and Brandon Tanev, not to mention more NHL experienced forwards like Alex Burmistrov, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.

Laine enters this season with high expectations placed on him from fans and media, after coming to the NHL following a standout career in Finland as a teenager. He’s aware of the expectations, but toned down the hype with the usual statements of just playing his game.

“Just be brave on the ice and show everybody I will earn my spot on the team,” he told reporters.

Laine has already seen game action this month. Not with the Jets, but with Finland’s entry at the World Cup of Hockey.

Following offseason knee surgery, Laine wasn’t happy with his performance in Finland’s first pre-tournament game. In three tournament games, Laine failed to register a point, despite a team-best 10 shots on goal, as Finland was quickly eliminated in the round robin.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Patrik Laine

Murray: Ristolainen’s good-faith gesture unlikely to sway talks with Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray tells The Associated Press he doesn’t believe defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen‘s decision to join the team for practice without a contract will have any effect on thawing negotiations.

With a big laugh, Murray on Friday said the only way Ristolainen could speed up contract talks is if “he got all lovey-dovey” and elected to take the Sabres’ latest offer.

Ristolainen is a restricted free agent whose rights were retained by the Sabres in June. After representing Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, Ristolainen reported to the Sabres on Thursday in what was regarded as a sign of good faith.

Though he’s not allowed to play because he’s not under contract, Ristolainen is practicing with the team and also taking part in meetings. Ristolainen is not making himself available to reporters.

Murray says he didn’t see anything wrong with allowing Ristolainen to practice, saying he’d rather the player be in Buffalo than working out elsewhere.

Murray says the two sides are still negotiating.

In three seasons, Buffalo’s 2013 first-round draft pick has established himself as the Sabres’ top defenseman. Last year, Ristolainen led the team in averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and led Buffalo defensemen with 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists).