PK Subban

Auston Matthews is on NHL 20 cover, but what’s in the game?

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EA Sports didn’t just reveal that Auston Matthews will be the cover star for the latest iteration of their hockey video games, NHL 20. They also shared some fascinating information about how it will be different from NHL 19, beyond Matthews taking over for P.K. Subban as the cover star.

With that release, and also details Game Informer’s Matt Bertz recently gleaned from a meeting during the video game conference E3, EA Sports isn’t just revealing who is on the cover of the game, but what’s going to be in the game.

(If I’m not laying it on thick enough: EA Sports’ slogan is “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game.” The best jokes are definitely the ones you immediately need to explain.)

If you follow online discourse about sports video games, you’ll probably come across some harsh criticisms, which can sometimes feel unfair to developers who have to pump out annual sports titles, and it seems especially unfair to the NHL crew in Vancouver, as they don’t enjoy the same resources as teams working on, say, the latest Madden.

With that caveat in mind, the tweaks EA Sports is making in NHL 20 sound reasonably ambitious. Let’s ponder a few details, while you can really dive in at Game Informer.

Embracing star power

One of the most prescient criticisms of the recent EA NHL games is that star players often don’t stand out enough from their peers.

The easiest way to tweak that would be to alter the ratings system, thus making great players stand out from the good, and maybe most importantly, good players stand out more than ones who are mediocre or even bad. Having rosters full of competent players, like see 80’s up and down virtually every lineup, doesn’t square well with the salary cap era, where sometimes teams are sending out overmatched depth players and merely hoping they don’t get swamped too badly.

Fixing that is a tough task, but NHL 20 uses an interesting idea we sometimes see in NBA2K games: unique animations for star players.

In general, more animations also seems to push toward a game that feels more like the real thing … at least, that’s the plan. Via the release:

The cutting-edge Real Player Motion (RPM) Tech continues to evolve the way that gamers showcase their mastery. This year’s gameplay introduces Signature Shots that replicate the most recognizable shot styles of the biggest NHL stars, including PK Subban’s booming slapshot wind-up, Auston Matthews’ half toe-drag wrist shot, and Alex Ovechkin’s seamless one-timer. Hundreds of new shot animations allow for more dangerous attacks, and RPM Tech-powered overhauls to passing and puck pick-ups create a faster and more fluid game that can be executed at full speed to replicate real NHL action. New goaltender A.I. includes a full offensive threat analysis, allowing netminders to read and react to the development and threat level of each zone entry.

Game Informer’s article indicates that EA will add 10-15 signature shots. At first blush, that might feel underwhelming, but I personally think it’s a great starting point.

If you want to kill some time, feel free to list way more than 15 signature shots for active players in the comments. I’d be super-curious to find out where people tap out.

More tweaks

Let’s list off some of the tweaks that are reportedly coming.

  • Your team can be a “Bunch of Jerks” with post-win celebrations in a few different modes. On that note: as great as Matthews is as a cover choice – seriously, well done, and Subban was too – it would have been bold to work the “Storm Surge” into the NHL 20 cover instead. EA should make a special collectors edition with that cover and swim in the ‘Canes cash.
  • Fixing one of the most glaring omissions, NHL 20’s franchise mode will include coaches, and in fact a “coaching carousel” of eight coaches: four on your NHL team, four on your AHL affiliate. Sadly, the coaches won’t be licensed, which means we’ll be deprived of digi-Bruce Boudreau, Joel Quenneville’s lush, polygonal mustache, and angry John Tortorella press conferences. Not to mention the pleasure of complaining about coaches’ ratings, when we get bored with complaining about player ratings. Maybe for NHL 21?
  • I’m weary of the series’ still-fairly-new player morale system, and NHL 20 seems primed to add line chemistry, and also to have coaches affect morale. Those are good ideas, and the promising news is that, generally, the games let you turn those factors off if you don’t like the implementation.
  • There are a bunch of EASHL/etc. tweaks that mostly went over my head (microtransactions are bad, kids), but devotees of those modes should read up.
  • Making Ones something you can play on your couch, with a friend, is a no-brainer. Hopefully no friendships, controllers, or furniture will be damaged.

Now, for some, it’s about the changes that aren’t coming in NHL 20.

And, yes, I can bicker with the best of them on certain factors. It doesn’t sound like the board play is being tweaked, which means more aggravating “suction”-type action into the boards if you’re in the area of the AI.

But, honestly, the games are fine for what they are, if you keep your expectations fair, and it sounds like NHL 20 will add some nice features, from the small to … the medium-sized. Not bad, but we’ll see how well EA actually executes on those ideas when the game comes out on Playstation 4 and Xbox One on Sept. 13.

(Now, if only EA would port those games to Nintendo’s Switch …)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rookie Miro Heiskanen leads Stars in upset win over Predators

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The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators have no shortage of defensive stars, so it seems appropriate that defensemen also drove the offense in Dallas’ 3-2 win over Nashville in Game 1. Among them all, it was rookie blueliner Miro Heiskanen who came out on top with two goals.

Roman Josi got Nashville on the board first and that was the only goal going into the first intermission. Heiskanen answered back with a power-play goal in the second period and then gave the Stars a 2-1 lead at 6:10 of the third. Heiskanen was one of the league’s top rookies this season. In addition to contributing 12 goals and 33 points in 82 contests, he logged 23:07 minutes per game. After a campaign like that, Stars coach Jim Montgomery didn’t shy away from leaning on Heiskanen in his playoff debut. Only Nashville’s Josi and Dallas’ Esa Lindell spent more time on the ice in Game 1.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Mats Zuccarello scored the first goal of the series contributed by a forward at 10:39 of the third period. It has to be particularly satisfying to the Stars to see him score, especially after he barely played for them in the regular season due to injury. He suffered a broken arm in his first game with Dallas after being acquired from the Rangers.

Predators defenseman PK Subban cut the lead in half to make it interesting and a late holding penalty on Mattias Janmark gave Nashville a good chance to tie the contest. The Stars managed to stay strong though and Ben Bishop was solid when he needed to be, making 30 saves on the night.

The pressure is now on the favored Predators to bounce back and ultimately to win one in Dallas, where the Stars were 24-14-3 in the regular season.

Stars-Predators Game 2 from Bridgestone Arena will be Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. ET on CNBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

P.K. Subban sends inspirational message to young fan after racist taunts

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P.K. Subban is pure class.

Sure, you can argue to the nth degree about who Subban is on the ice. He’s a polarizing player at times.

But when it comes to the man off of it, there are no arguments: Subban is an exceptional human being. And this was once again on display on Monday on Reddit.

A person with the Reddit username u/hockey7676 posted to the r/hockey subreddit. The post wasn’t long, but said, “My 13 year old son has been dealing with a lot of racist taunts this year. He received a text message Saturday night from his favorite player PK Subban.”

Attached to it was the video message that Subban sent the boy — who was identified in the message only as ‘Ty.’

His message? Keep moving forward.

“As long as you’re still breathing in this world, you gotta believe in yourself,” Subban said. “And let nobody tell you what you can and cannot do, especially if it’s because of the color of skin.

“In this world, some things happen that we don’t understand. That’s OK, we don’t have to understand it. All we need to do is understand ourself, believe in ourself and keep trying and keep pushing forward.

“I just want to tell that when you’re playing hockey, you play because you love the game and you want to play. Let nobody take that away from you.”

The Reddit post was up to 1,200 comments as of Monday night.

Subban’s off-ice heroics have been well-documented.

In 2016, while still a member of the Montreal Canadiens, he pledged $10 million over the next seven years to the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

While in Nashville, he’s set up a program called Blueline Buddies, which aims to break down barriers between police and youths in the area.

[MORE: Forsberg’s return just what the Predators needs]


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Pekka Rinne begins Stanley Cup Final as the Conn Smythe favorite

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Pekka Rinne enters the Stanley Cup Final as the favorite to capture the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, according to odds released by Bovada.

No surprise.

The Predators have gone on a terrific run this postseason, hitting the high expectations laid out for them prior to the start of the season. There have been many reasons for their success this spring, most notably the play of Rinne in goal.

He started the playoffs with consecutive shutouts versus the Blackhawks and then only gave up three goals in the final two games as Nashville swept Chicago, considered the Stanley Cup favorite when the playoffs began, in the opening round.

Rinne has continued to roll, with a .941 save percentage throughout the entire playoffs, while Nashville has allowed only 29 goals in 16 games.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are also near the top of that list for the Conn Smythe odds. Crosby is the reigning Conn Smythe winner, while Malkin leads all players with 24 points in 19 playoff games.

Here are the odds, via Bovada:

Pekka Rinne    9/4

Sidney Crosby    5/2

Evgeni Malkin    7/2

Matt Murray    9/1

Filip Forsberg    10/1

Phil Kessel    10/1

PK Subban    16/1

Roman Josi    25/1

Viktor Arvidsson    33/1

Ryan Ellis    33/1

Jake Guentzel    33/1

Chris Kunitz    33/1

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is Monday in Pittsburgh. After winning it all a year ago, the Penguins enter the series as the favorites against the Predators.

Related: Pekka Rinne has been the backbone for the Predators during run to the final