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).

‘We should be embarrassed’: Blashill rips Red Wings after latest loss

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The Detroit Red Wings got off to a terrific start in 2017-18, as they were able to collect victories in four of their first five games of the season.

What made their start even more impressive, is that four of their first five contests were played on the road. They opened the season with a home win against Minnesota, and then took home two points in Ottawa, Arizona and Vegas. Their lone loss came in Dallas.

That positive start seems like it was a lifetime ago. The Red Wings have now dropped four games in a row to Tampa Bay, Toronto, Washington and Vancouver.

After Sunday night’s loss to the Canucks, head coach Jeff Blashill had some choice words for his team’s lack of desire.

“It was a brutal effort,” Blashill said, per MLive.com. “I thought it was an embarrassing effort, not even close to the level of competitiveness you have to have. We should be embarrassed of ourselves, from me at the top all the way on down. We got out-competed, outworked, out-detailed.”

Detroit was outshot (37-21) and outchanced by a significant margin. And no disrespect to the Canucks, but they aren’t exactly a top team in the league.

(As you may have guessed, the Canucks are represented by the light blue line in hockeystats.ca’s possession chart).

Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Wings. They’re going to spend the week on the road (they’ll play three games in five days), as they’ll travel to Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Florida.

PHT Morning Skate: On David Booth escaping death last summer

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–The Flyers will be without Andrew MacDonald for a month. That might open the door for youngster Samuel Morin, who made the roster out of training camp. Morin’s NHL-ready, per the Flyers, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in. (Courier-Post)

–Team USA and Team Canada’s Women’s teams played the first game of the “The Time is Now Tour” in preparation for the 2018 Olympics. Team USA came out on top. (USA Hockey)

–The Score takes a look at three teams that made a big statement over the weekend. The Maple Leafs bandwagon has picked up a lot of steam since last season, but the Senators took care of them on Saturday night. (The Score)

–The Colorado Avalanche look better this year than they did all of last season, but they’ve been hit by injuries lately. Both Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher will miss an extended period of time. (Denver Post)

Riley Sheahan went 79 games without a goal last year, but the Penguins felt like a fresh start in a new city is exactly what he needed, so they went out and acquired him from Detroit over the weekend.  “It’s been a crazy last day, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I’m leaving behind a great organization and some great teammates, but I’m definitely excited for the change of scenery and to get started with such an awesome organization.” (Pittsburgh Tribune)

–David Booth, who is a trained pilot, had a scary experience last summer. After getting an invite to Ducks training camp at the last minute, he decided to fly to Anaheim on his own. Booth had some tense moments in the air after his engine failed. Thankfully, the story has a happy ending. (Sportsnet)

–Youngster Anthony Beauvillier has faced some adversity already this season. After a couple of mediocre performances, Beauvillier was made a healthy scratch. Now, he’s out to prove he belongs in the lineup every night. “You can always find positive things out of that but you never want to sit for a game,” Beauvillier said. “It’s kind of hard. You’ve just got to keep working hard when it does happen. You just have to go out there and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” (thesportsdaily.com)

–The Edmonton Oilers swapped Jordan Eberle to the Isles for Ryan Strome. Unfortunately for them, the deal hasn’t worked out so far, but there’s still plenty of time for Strome to figure things out. (Oilersnation.com)

–The Golden Knights have had some tough luck when it comes to keeping goalies healthy. Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban are both out of the lineup right now. Don’t expect them to make a trade for a goalie because this season isn’t about wins and losses. It looks like Oscar Dansk will be their guy. (sinbin.vegas)

Niklas Kronwall, who played in his 800th game on Saturday night, has had plenty of issues with his left knee. In an attempt to get healthy, Kronwall admitted to trying stem cell therapy. “When you get to this point, you’re basically trying everything. That’s definitely something that’s out there and I think it’s becoming more and more, I don’t know if popular is the word.” (Detroit Free Press)

Max Pacioretty and the Montreal Canadiens are off to an awful start. As the losses continue to pile up, so does trade speculation. But Habs Eyes on the Prize believes that trading Pacioretty away would be a huge mistake. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

–Speaking of the Habs, Andrew Shaw was accused of using a homophobic slur in Anaheim on Friday night, but the NHL looked into the matter and decided he didn’t do what he was accused of doing. As you may remember, Shaw was suspended one game for using a homophobic slur a couple of years ago. (TSN.ca)

Jack Hughes, 2019 NHL top prospect, scores brilliant solo goal (Video)

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USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program side is off to a great start in the United States Hockey League this season. They’ve won their first four games, are the highest scoring team in the league (27) and may have already locked up goal of the season.

Jack Hughes, a 2019 NHL draft prospect, made the Green Bay Gamblers defense look mighty silly during a 6-4 win on Sunday afternoon.

At first watch, if you’re strictly paying attention to Hughes, you might think Team USA is on a power play. But then you realize there are five skaters in black despite what seems like a lot of space for the 16-year-old to work with.

Hughes, who’s tied for second in league scoring with seven points, finished with three points on the afternoon and is already being dubbed the “Next One.” We’ll be hearing a lot of his name over the next year and a half as June 2019 approaches.

“He’s a special player,” said Barrie Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk to the Toronto Sun’s Mike Traikos last spring. Hawerchuk had planned on taking Hughes No. 1 overall in last year’s OHL draft before he decided to go the NTDP route. “He’s so fast and a such a great skater. But he’s also got great instincts. He thinks the game on another level.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Canucks continue Red Wings’ slide

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Player of the Night: Sven Baertschi

Last season, Baertschi was a bright spot for a dismal Vancouver Canucks team, generating new career-highs in goals (18) and points (35) in 68 regular-season games.

The 25-year-old carried over some of that momentum early on, generating three points in seven games, but they were all assists. Sunday marked his best moment of 2017-18, as Baertschi scored his first two goals of the campaign (giving him five points in eight contests).

Bo Horvat is the honorable mention in the Canucks’ 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings, collecting his first two assists of the season. Jake Virtanen also found the net for his first goal of the season.

(As an aside, Derek Dorsett somehow has five goals already in 2017-18. Dorsett’s career-high is 12 goals, but he’s already in range of tying his second-best mark of seven.)

Highlight of the Night: Why not go with Baertschi’s two goals?

Factoid of the Night: This marks the fourth straight loss for the Red Wings, dropping them to 4-4-1 after a promising 4-1-0 start. But the hits could keep coming.

Beginning with Tuesday’s game against the Sabres in Buffalo, Detroit will play three straight road games and seven of their next eight away from home. The bright side is that they’ll enjoy a ton of contests at their expensive new pad starting in mid-November, but the next few weeks could really dim whatever optimism the Red Wings built up early on.

(For pro-tanking Red Wings fans, this might not be such a bad thing.)

Sunday’s lone score: Canucks 4, Red Wings 1