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NHL ’12 video preview: EA Sports boasts ‘hat trick’ of innovations

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We don’t mean to rub it in, but opening night in October is a long way away. That being said, there are distractions for hockey fans who cannot get enough. Obviously, the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and free agent frenzy provided equal portions silliness and hope for puck enthusiasts. PHT will carry you through these warm, hockey-free months with updates regarding the latest moves, looks into the future and features to tickle your fancy.

One could probably consider September the month in which the light at the end of the tunnel gets a little bigger and brighter. That’s when training camp starts and it’s also the time of year when the next round of NHL video games are released. For the second consecutive year, it seems like EA Sports’ best-selling NHL series won’t have major competition (besides other sports games, TV shows and other bigger picture distractions) with the 2K series in road kill mode.

For those who worry that the software giant will rest on its laurels without another puck-based game making them sweat, it seems like the company will try to bolster its impressive foundation. We’ve already covered the fact that the game will include a Winter Classic mode and shared the September 13 release date/first preview video, but EA provided a more complete view of the biggest changes in store for NHL ’12 recently.

EA unveiled its “hat trick” of innovations, which you can check out in this video from GameTrailers.com.

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Here are some of my observations about each innovation after watching that video and reading up on how these changes might impact the game.

1. “Anticipation AI” – The company claims that computer players will do a better job of anticipating the puck changing hands and generally reacting to on-ice events in a more organic way.

2. “Full contact physics” – As I discussed in Todd Marchant’s retirement post, speed used to be an overriding asset in hockey video games. There’s no doubt that fast skating is important in today’s game, but the perceived disparity often makes bigger players seem useless. The reality is that big players are often very useful in the NHL, especially in front of the net. NHL ’12 claims to address that issue better than before. (To be fair, the series made some progress in this area already, but this might be the big leap some were waiting for.)

3. “Dynamic goalies” – This innovation strikes me as the next installment of the “broken sticks” gamble from last year. There are plenty of ways that this could go wrong (example: will the game know if you’re trying to shoot or if you want to initiate contact with a goalie?) but it could add some needed realism to the game. If nothing else, it would be great to see more personality from goalies.

Things look promising overall, but it’s tough to overlook how awkward Zdeno Chara’s battles in front of the net ended up looking. It’s something that Operation Sports also tackled in their preview.

In terms of impact, I do think the physics engine is the biggest deal of the three. It essentially ties into a lot of what’s happening with goalies this year, and it also works to improve and fix much of what was wrong with the physics last year. However, I want to start with a negative here and point out that some ugly animations crop up with the implementation of this physics engine. I think it’s the price you pay, at least for now, to experience more organic moments, but it doesn’t excuse the look of some of the interactions. For example, nudging and bumping some players from behind causes the puck carrier to react in some questionable ways. It’s nice to see some new stumbles, but it’s just not that common for players to be checked down or pushed to the ice from behind as much as they are here. On top of that, some goofiness crops up when the goalies interact with players.

It looks like NHL ’12 could be a significant upgrade over NHL ’11 if EA’s innovations work out as well as advertised. The series has a great track record of delivering on their promises so far, but we’ll keep you updated as more information surfaces and the September 13 release date approaches.

(Screenshot via Operation Sports.)

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.”