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.)

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.