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NHL 12 review roundup: Is it the best game yet or has the series reached a plateau?

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With training camps starting up around the NHL, the hockey-starved masses are already being thrown some meat to chew on. For those who might not be satiated by rookies trying to nail down roster spots and new players/coaches getting acquainted with teams, there’s another option to try to satisfy that hunger: video games. This time around, there’s only one major title to choose from: EA Sports’ NHL 12, which released on September 13.

While there are other reviews that haven’t poured in yet, a good chunk of reactions filtered through blogs, gaming Web sites and various other outlets already. For the most part, the reviews have been very positive, but there also are some naysayers – including one whose negativity might qualify as extreme. With a few days for experts to digest the game out of the way, let’s take a look at how critics reacted to the new game.

A sampling of emphatic praise

1UP.com called it “the series’ greatest achievement” in their A- review:

This is the best version of NHL in the past three years — it’s like the previous versions were simply leading up to this release. Everything looks and feels and plays as it should; a fine balance of entertainment and realism.

Gaming Excellence gave it a 9.2 (“Excellent”) rating:

To be honest, I’m usually in the camp that skips every second NHL title because it’s hard to justify what seems like a few enhancements and a roster update for the price of a AAA game, but this time they’ve done a fantastic job with improvements that are very hard to resist.

Gaming Age gave it a 95 percent (“Superlative”) score:

What more can be said other than, NHL fans need to buy NHL 12 if only to play the best representation of the sport ever created. I don’t think I can praise it any more than that.

Are the improvements too subtle?

There aren’t many major criticisms of the game (at least as far as giving it a bad “score”), but the most consistent line of complaints indicate that the tweaks, new features and improvements aren’t enough to justify a purchase if gamers already own NHL 11. Metacritic captures many of those “it’s a great game and all, but … ” reviews, including this one from GameShark.com.

To be fair there are a lot of changes and tweaks made to the NHL 11 design, but many of them are so small to be nearly unnoticeable. As great as NHL 12 is, and it is a great game, it’s not a giant leap from NHL 11. Is that enough to warrant another $60? Only you can answer that one.

Adam Najberg of the Wall Street Journal blog Speak Easy goes as far as to wonder if EA should put the series on the shelf altogether in what must be the harshest major review for the series in a long time.

Maybe a deep cleansing breath or a hiatus would help. It certainly has for other EA Sports game franchises. On the basketball side, EA has taken a breather for a couple of years, trying to retool and reinvigorate a tired NBA game franchise that wasn’t up to snuff.

(snip)

It’s not really for me to say, but until EA Sports can really come up with something new and refreshing, maybe it should consider putting its NHL game series on ice.

(Quick aside: however you might feel about the direction of the NHL series, bringing up the NBA Live/Elite hiatus won’t improve the odds for a hockey break.)

NHL 12 producer Sean Ramjasingh addressed the question of NHL 12 being a big enough improvement over NHL 11 in an interview earlier last week.

“I think this year is probably the most authentic game we’ve made; it’s leaps and bounds over NHL 11,” Ramjasingh said. “The incredible team we have here busts their butts all year to put over 300 gameplay refinements in, so as you play the game, all that depth is going to start to come through. The real game-changer for me is the hat trick of game innovations.”

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This post provides a solid rundown of that “hat trick” of alterations, which seemingly impressed most critics. The ultimate criticisms come from peoples’ wallets, though, so tell us how you feel. Does the game seem worth your money, whether you already paid for it or are primed to buy it in the future? Let us know in the comments (and expect PHT’s take soon).

Shane Doan wasn’t pleased with the Martin Hanzal trade

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Shane Doan has in the past been critical about some of the trades the Arizona Coyotes have made.

He did so again on Sunday, seemingly in disbelief that the Coyotes traded Martin Hanzal to the Minnesota Wild.

In March of 2015, the now 40-year-old forward, who has played his entire career with this franchise despite all its financial and arena turmoil, voiced his displeasure when Arizona dealt defenseman Keith Yandle.

“It was not my idea, not my ideal situation,” he said at the time. “There’s no one that’s 38 years old that thinks it’s a good idea, ‘Let’s rebuild.’”

The Coyotes entered Sunday with 49 points and well out of a wild card spot. They are selling, in a rebuilding phase and Hanzal’s name had been tied to trade speculation for months.

The Coyotes were in action versus the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. Standing in the dressing room and still trying to capture his breath, Doan addressed the Hanzal deal with Todd Walsh of Fox Sports Arizona.

“It’s really hard. Obviously he’s a huge part of our team and someone that you get to play with for 10 years, you appreciate and understand how valuable and how you can’t really replace him,” said Doan, before the frustration really began to appear.

“The fact we just continue to seem to go — I don’t know, it’s hard to understand exactly. I mean, you understand people’s hands are tied and you just don’t get it.”

Meanwhile, Doan is on a one-year contract and his future with the club has also been talked about recently.

However, Coyotes GM John Chayka reiterated to reporters that Doan has not asked for a trade.

Blackhawks continue red-hot streak with win over Blues

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It’s been quite a month for the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks on Sunday concluded their schedule for the month of February with a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues, and their recent surge over the last few weeks has put them right into the thick of the fight for first place in the Central Division.

They now trail Minnesota by only a single point, although the Wild — they were busy Sunday, acquiring Martin Hanzal from Arizona — still have three games in hand.

Still, the Blackhawks are heating up ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline. They have now won nine times in their last 10 games and that includes a pair of victories against Minnesota. The fight for this division is basically now solely between these two teams.

Meanwhile, the Blues had enjoyed instant success after making their coaching change at the beginning of this month. But they have now lost three straight and on Tuesday will play Connor McDavid and an Edmonton Oilers team that is looking to remain in contention for the Pacific Division lead.

The Blues, who fell behind early and then fought back to tie the game before the deciding Artem Anisimov goal, still hold a wild card spot, but they sit only three points above the L.A. Kings for that final spot.

Anisimov scored the winner for Chicago. He buried a beautiful cross-ice pass from Artemi Panarin late in the third period to give the Blackhawks the lead. Patrick Kane had a two-point night while logging more than 21 minutes of ice time — more than any other Chicago forward.

Big win in the Big Apple for Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 20:  Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates after scoring a goal during the second period of the game against the Los Angeles Kings on December 20, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg each scored twice to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots to tie his career high with his 32nd win. Josh Anderson also scored and Oliver Bjorkstrand had two assists to help the Blue Jackets win for the fourth time in five games.

Columbus won for the second time in two days after its bye week and moved past the Rangers into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Blue Jackets won three of five in the season series – including both games at Madison Square Garden – after losing seven straight meetings coming in.

Rick Nash scored a tying goal for the Rangers early in the first period. Jesper Fast scored in the final second, and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 26 saves.

New York lost for just the third time this month (9-2-1) and had its four-game point streak snapped (3-0-1). The Rangers, who came in 5-0-1 in their last six at home, were playing for the fifth time in six days – with the previous three games going beyond regulation.

With Columbus leading 2-1 after one period, Lundqvist made a nice stop on a breakaway by Atkinson to keep it a one-goal game just past the 9-minute mark of the second.

However, seconds after Nick Holden made a sliding save of Zach Werenski‘s shot at an open net with Lundqvist out of position, Wennberg scored off a rebound of a shot by Bjorkstrand for his second of the game and 12th of the season to make it 3-1 at 9:47.

Atkinson got his second of the game and career-high 29th at 4:12 of the third. He took a pass from Brandon Dubinsky, skated in and beat Lundqvist on the stick side. Atkinson also tied his career high of 53 points set last season.

Anderson scored from in front in the final minute for his 14th, and Fast scored just before the final buzzer.

Wennberg got the Blue Jackets on the board 1:02 into the game when he deflected David Savard‘s shot down out of the air and past Lundqvist for his 11th.

The Rangers tied it when Nash received a no-look pass from Jimmy Vesey and fired it from the right circle over Bobrovsky’s glove at 4:07. Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella challenged for offside, but the goal stood after a review.

Columbus went ahead 2-1 with its second power-play goal in 14 games. With the Rangers’ Adam Clendening off for roughing, Atkinson wristed a shot from the center point past Lundqvist at 6:47.

Nick Foligno was sent off for holding with 2:47 left in the first, putting the Blue Jackets short-handed for the first time in three games. Bobrovsky stopped great power-play chances for Brandon Pirri and Mats Zuccarello.

Columbus’ Brandon Saad was awarded a penalty shot when he was held before he could get a shot off during a short-handed breakaway in the final minute, but Lundqvist deflected his attempt away.

A ‘number of concerns’ about Jonathan Quick led Kings to pursue Bishop

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Dean Lombardi revealed that he and Steve Yzerman had been working on a deal for Ben Bishop for about two or three weeks.

On Sunday, a deal between the Kings and Lightning was finally completed and it had basically everything to do with Jonathan Quick. Speaking in a conference call, Lombardi, the Kings general manager, noted a “number of concerns” for Quick coming back from a 59-game absence because of a groin injury before finally returning to game action Saturday.

Quick, 31, was impressive in a win over the Anaheim Ducks, but Lombardi and the Kings just could not be sure about how he would fare in the stretch drive after coming back from such a lengthy time away, and were therefore set on acquiring another No. 1 goalie.

“You’re never sure how well a guy who’s been out this long — is he going to have his ‘A’ game, so to speak, or not? These type of injuries, which are fairly serious, the history of comebacks can go either way,” said Lombardi.

“On the other hand, we all know Jon’s a tremendous athlete. He’s one of the top goaltenders in the game and most importantly he’s one of the game’s top competitors. So you certainly don’t worry about Jon … once he passes the mental part that ‘I’m capable of doing athletically what I have in the past’ that he’s going to be able to give it his all.”

The Kings, currently three points out of a playoff spot in the West, are in a stretch of three games in four nights.

Bishop is expected to join the team for the morning skate tomorrow. Lombardi even mentioned that coach Darryl Sutter had actually planned on playing the newly acquired netminder Monday versus the Wild. That is still to be determined but it’s likely Bishop plays one of the Kings’ next two games. They’re in Calgary on Tuesday.

The condensed schedule over the next few weeks was another factor in making the trade for the Kings. They just simply don’t want to wear Quick down.

“This is not an insurance policy,” said Lombardi. “There’s not a lot of room here for error. We just want to take that out of the equation by making sure that we have a No. 1 goalie in there every night.”

Bishop is a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Kings have Quick under contract until 2023 at a cap hit of $5.8 million.

While Lombardi didn’t completely rule out the chance of re-signing Bishop — “You never say ‘never,'” he said — bringing in a player on an expiring contract was something the Kings were willing to do in this case.

“If not, we’re comfortable with what we had to pay to give ourselves a chance here to get in. After that, as we know, anything can happen,” he said. “The focus was on getting the best goalie available.”

The Kings face other issues. You could argue more pressing issues.

Sure, they made a move they believe will strengthen the goaltending position. But they’re also 25th in scoring, averaging just 2.44 goals-for per game. They had a nice third-period outburst Saturday, but for the most part, goals have been hard to come by for L.A.

“There’s players that will freely admit right to you that they’re capable of producing more. We don’t want to lose our defensive identity. We’ve got two of the best goalies in the league there now,” said Lombardi.

“Now when we get into the other team’s end … we’ve got to bear down.”