James O'Brien

eashl

Here’s what people think about NHL 16’s EASHL beta

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After missing features left a sour note for many upon the release of NHL 15, EA Sports is bringing some key modes back to NHL 16.

That meant giving the popular “EASHL” a test drive this past week via a beta released for Xbox One and Playstation 4.

Here’s the short version for those who see EASHL as a garble of letters: the mode – which stands for EA Sports Hockey League – allows you to play as a single, created player (instead of a team) with other people online. You can be a forward, defenseman or goalie, with a few templates like “sniper” and “power forward” to spice things up.

If you get lucky, 12 humans could be controlling the six individual positions per team in a single game.

Considering the potential there, people were upset that NHL 15 didn’t include the feature, but it appears to be back. So what kind of feedback did this trial run receive? Let’s take a quick look.

Game Informer was pleasantly surprised by how well the artificial intelligence handled things when a full team of human players wasn’t available (which is most common):

These non-player skaters are better than we anticipated. Defenders skillfully patrol the middle of the ice, intercepting passes and denying easy entry to the slot. If you pair a CPU defender with a human, it is smart enough to stay back should the player pinch or join the rush. On offense, we saw a few A.I. players put home juicy rebounds and successfully dislodge the puck from a defender during a forecheck.

This Hockey Writers post praises the customization options:

Even the team you create in NHL 16 is given more uniqueness with the new system. Now Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk have the ability to say the name of your team that is given by you when you create your EASHL team. From standard team names to ridiculous ones you and your friends can get extremely creative when you create your team and team name, while at the same time getting the name recognition on-screen from one of the best announcers in the National Hockey League.

Fansided postulates that NHL 16 is already better than NHL 15, even based on what amounts to a dress rehearsal.

The Vancouver Province’s detailed write-up concludes on a down note for EA Sports:

The problem I have right now with EASHL is that it just wasn’t fun for me. Everything felt like a grueling game of old Minnesota trap hockey, where each game left me drained after it was over, instead of jubilant after having played a game with some friends. It might be an issue of a learning curve, and maybe after more time I will learn to adapt to the new NHL 16 way of life. It’s just adapting to a certain game play doesn’t necessarily guarantee a fun hockey game for me.

Ouch.

The beta is running through August 10, allowing the developers to make some tweaks before the game’s release in about one month. It sounds like there may still be some work to do, although there was plenty of positive feedback, too.

(EASHL logo via EA Sports.)

More forward depth: Flyers give Porter two-way deal

Chris Porter, Roman Josi
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The Philadelphia Flyers added yet another forward to their mix on Saturday, signing Chris Porter to a one-year, two-way deal.

The 31-year-old is one of those rare beasts: a ninth-rounder (282 overall in 2003) still kicking around the NHL and AHL.

He managed to play 24 games with the St. Louis Blues last season, giving him 173 career regular season contests overall, all with the Blues.

Philadelphia already boasted a lot of options at forward before this move, so maybe it’s a bit of a crowd now? (It’s tough to get too worked up about this specific deal, being that it provides flexibility with its two-way status.)

Senators and the ‘sophomore slump’

1500809 senators
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As exhilarating as it may be to nail that debut album, expectations only build for the follow-up.

Let’s take a look at key Ottawa Senators trying to avoid the sports version of one-hit wonder status.

Dave Cameron – Plenty of coaches burst onto the NHL scene only to hit a snag after that “new car smell” wears off. (Guy Boucher is sadly nodding.)

Cameron produced dramatic results after taking over in Ottawa, most notably finishing last season with a 23-4-4 run to make the playoffs. Cameron received a contract extension for his work – and his role in the turnaround cannot be denied – but now he’s being asked to make lightning strike twice.

Unless, of course, this group is for real.

Andrew Hammond – Naturally, it’s no coincidence that the Senators were red-hot at the same moment that “The Hamburglar” became a secret sauce sensation.

The 27-year-old made history and a ridiculous amount of stops, going 20-1-2 with a remarkable .941 save percentage. Hammond may be at the greatest risk of a huge dive in production, as nothing about his numbers at lower levels really predicted a breakthrough.

Actually, Craig Anderson being the probable No. 1 guy could go a long way in helping Hammond ease into life as a full-time NHL goalie.

Mark Stone – The sixth-rounder (178th overall in 2010) seemed to swap bodies with another player when 2014 turned to 2015.

In 34 contests from October through December, Stone managed 8 goals and 17 points. From January to the end of the regular season, he scored 18 goals and 47 points in 46 games.

One can expect the 23-year-old to cool off a bit, as his 16.6 shooting percentage should subside. The key question is “How much?”

Mike Hoffman – His production came more steadily than Stone’s, yet the 25-year-old’s in largely the same situation. Both saw big upswings in their numbers, each has a bit more than 100 regular season games under their belts, and they likely should enjoy space to grow under Cameron.

It’s reasonable to anticipate a moderate dip, although his more consistent production (and a more moderate 13.6 shooting percentage) imply that he could be pretty reliable.

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Here’s the thing: all four Senators sophomores are vulnerable to a slump, especially in the eyes of those with sky-high expectations. On the flip side, those who give them a little room to breathe may find that the team made some lasting discoveries during that astounding run.

Ottawa Senators ’15-16 Outlook

Ottawa Senators v Vancouver Canucks
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What happens after the honeymoon period wears off?

The Ottawa Senators may be a great test run for such theories in 2015-16. After all, there was a stark difference between the team that left MacLean making sardonic jokes on his way out the door to the one that stormed its way into the postseason under Dave Cameron.

So, what happens when Cameron gets to hold a training camp with this roster? Also, what happens if their goaltending is merely average after Andrew Hammond’s stupendous, burger-earning run?

One interesting thing to consider: some credit Ottawa’s turnaround with Cameron as much as they did with “The Hamburglar.” The possession improvements from MacLean to Cameron were occasionally drastic, but the common theme is that younger players like Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone emerged while veterans faded into the background.

Perceptions change, but the personnel’s largely the same

There are exceptions (see: Robin Lehner’s exodus), yet the Senators are more or less the same team after a quiet summer. It’s interesting, then, that it’s still difficult to forecast this team’s future.

Hoffman, Stone and Mika Zibanejad saw big gains under Cameron. Kyle Turris proved that he can be a top center in the NHL. More will be expected from Bobby Ryan while Erik Karlsson is, well, Erik Karlsson.

The offense looks like a solid strength, but Ottawa’s roster faces plenty of questions. The defense sees a huge drop-off beyond their top pairing of Karlsson and Marc Methot while Hammond could easily generate a goalie controversy with probable starter Craig Anderson.

In other words, by defying expectations in 2014-15, Cameron and the Senators raised the bar awfully high for next season. Will they fall short of that mark?

Sens’ biggest question: Defensemen not named Karlsson

Jared Cowen, Robin Lehner
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Let’s face it: most teams would see a big drop-off between Erik Karlsson and the rest of their defensemen.

Even so, whether by choice or budgetary constraints, it seems like “same old, same old” for the Ottawa Senators’ blueline beyond their Swedish superstar.

(OK, that’s unfair to a very nice defenseman in Marc Methot, but the general outlook remains pretty shaky.)

Take a peek at their projected pairings, via the Ottawa Sun:

Methot – Karlsson
Patrick Wiercioch – Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki – Chris Phillips

Other options who might bump depth guys: Chris Wideman and Jared Cowen

That doesn’t exactly jump out as a group that will smother the opposition (or consistently, effectively move the puck out of the zone failing that), does it?

It’s not just a matter of looking iffy on paper, as the Senators range from middle-of-the-pack to the bottom 10 in various defensive stats. After all, we can only really speculate regarding just how much Andrew Hammond’s fast-food Cinderella streak truly covered up some own-zone blemishes in 2014-15.

Even if you make the case for the occasional piece beyond Karlsson and Methot, it’s tough to imagine an honest GM being happy staying pat with this group. The Senators seem like they’ll need to live with “Karlsson and everyone else” for another year, nonetheless.

With the emergence of Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman, Ottawa’s offense seems far more formidable, and Craig Anderson + Hammond make for an intriguing combo in net.

As brilliant as Karlsson is, you get the impression that this defense may force the Sens to outscore their problems.