Welcome back hockey fans to the first '09 edition of NHL 101, the class where we discuss the dos and don'ts of gameplay in EA's NHL series.
With NHL 09 fresh off the delivery truck and now presently in your console you are probably knee-deep in some vulcanized rubber. You probably have many questions about the game, which range from how to score on a breakaway to how to score period. Then there are others of you out there that probably just want to know what period length is best for realistic stats.
Well I’m here to tackle some of those tough questions, so sit back and put that controller down for five minutes while I dive into the first '09 installment of the NHL Classroom.
Today we are going to talk mostly about defense. I know you can probably only score via that against-the-grain-top-corner shot or some lame wrap-around right now, but offense comes with time and the best offense is a good defense -- or something like that.
Since there are all-new defensive moves this year, it is imperative you get yourself acclimated with them. Each one is useful at a different time, so not using all of them in a cumulative effort is equivalent to tying one hand behind your back.
The new defensive moves gives players more control around the net.
First and foremost is the new stick-lift feature. EA was nice enough to add this real-life feature as a means to counter those dreaded one-timers. Also it levels the playing field against those people who tend to just walk through entire teams on the way to the net before burying some cheese goal with a superstar player. However, in typical EA fashion the company went too far and overdid the stick lift this year.
The stick lift works too well. So it can essentially be your first line of defense. It works when facing a player attacking your zone, it works from behind, and it even works from across the body at times. If you've played hockey in real life you realize how hard it is to get leverage and perform this move if you are not stationary for the most part, or if you are not right on top of the opposing puck handler. Not the case in this game though.
So what I am saying is this: the rule of thumb in gaming is if something is going to be done to you, whether it be by the A.I. or by a human, you might as well be using it to your advantage too.
Stick lift is the A button on the Xbox 360 and X on the Playstation 3. You can jam on this button multiple times and eventually it seems to work. Watch when you have a bad angle as you may get more skin than stick and take a slashing or high-sticking penalty. However, the calls the refs do make are outweighed by the reward of taking the puck off your opponent up to two dozen times a game.
Next is the new 360-degree poke check sweep. One of the first things you are taught upon getting a stick and hopping on the ice is how to poke check. This should be your first line of defense -- but the stick lift is so damn effective it isn't.
Time for some serious defensive skills.
This year you can not only poke forward in a pickle stabbing motion, you are able to perform a sweeping animation that you are in control of. This can be very helpful against players who are trying to drag the puck or attack you head on (think especially at your blue line when entering your zone).
What it is also very money at doing is clogging up the passing lanes. Are you killing off a long penalty because of that five minute boarding call? Use this feature to make your guy as big as possible and take away that cross-ice pass or dish to the slot for an open one-timer.
The way to do this move is to hold the RB button (R1 on the PS3) and sweep the right analog stick in any direction you need to, to get that stick out there. Practice this move by yourself because it takes some coordination at first, and the results aren’t as immediate when compare the method to the stick lift. Still this move is a must and can really force your opponents to dump and chase as opposed to carrying the puck all the time.
We aren’t going to get into the lying down and crouching much today as those moves were in last year's version. Still they both work pretty well as last ditch efforts to block a pass or shot. If you are good at timing the dive you can really get some realistic looking blocked shots -- plus diving at a point man ready to release that big slapper can lead to a break the other way if your teammate is apt enough to grab the loose puck and go.
The thing to be careful of when using those methods, though, is not taking yourself out of the play, thereby opening up a whole other opportunity if the opposing player has the patience to skate around the dive or hold on to the puck for that one second as a trailer comes down the ice. Still the crouch and dive each serve a good purpose when needed.
Hook and pin time anyone?
Finally we will quickly discuss a move that has been in the game previously, but because of button remapping, probably will not get used as much as it should this season. That of course would be the hook and pin button.
To hook or pin someone to the boards you can use the Y button your 360 and the triangle button on the PS3. The hook can be very effective if you're trying to slow someone down from behind, but it is the riskiest move on defense to pull off because it historically has the highest ratio of penalty calls to successes in the game. What kills this move, though, is the fact that EA decided to map the fight and slash buttons to the hook button. So you may never know what you are going to get when you hit that button.
If you are playing with friends or partaking in a franchise what you may want to do is just turn off fighting altogether. It really doesn’t look that great anyway and serves little purpose in the game. But that is your prerogative.
If you do turn fighting off, you will see that hooking can really be helpful to your defensive game when used to slow a non-puck carrier down (technically obstruction, but that is for the refs to decide), or someone about to go on a breakaway.
Along the boards hitting this button will pin your opponent. This should free up the puck for a teammate to come in and gather it. You are bound to take the occasional holding call though, so beware.
Well that is all we really have time to get into for today's class. Hopefully you give all these new moves a chance in your game, because you will discover some neat animations and more realistic game results if you do. So until next time, class dismissed.