The improved A.I. in NHL 14 can give you fits if you don't play smart and work to master the controls. After playing the game consistently since it released via EA Season Ticket, and consulting a few resources online, I've found ways to fix a few mistakes.
Yes, this is still a video game, but like any real simulation, you have to be true to the sport to have success. I've played the NHL series in some capacity for 20 years, but the last two years of the series have forced me to raise my awareness on the virtual ice.
From gaining and maintaining possession to defense and physical play, here's what I've learned to improve my game.
Don't Get Caught Chasing the Puck
The old school seek-and-destroy approach you used to be able to employ with NHL games is a thing of the past. The CPU will slice you to pieces with quick passes if you go this route. In addition to that, the realistic penalty system will keep your penalty-killing unit on the ice if you're overly aggressive.
The most important rule I've learned is to matchup when the puck is in your defending zone. Sometimes the virtual goon in you can get enamored with plastering the man with the puck, but this will lead to consistent one-timer attempts.
No goalie is good enough to withstand this type of pressure. Find your matchup with whomever you're controlling and make a pass to him difficult.
Playing the Live the Life mode helped me a lot in this area. The blue arrow shows you where you need to be on the ice. After a few games in this mode at different positions, the assignments began to stick with me, even when I played in Be a GM mode.
Don't Forget to Block Shots
Another way to take pressure off the goalie is use the LB button (or L1 or PS3) to block shot attempts. When you use this strategy in front of an opponent who is ready to take a shot, you can absorb the attempt or redirect it.
It may result in a broken stick, but it is a great way to keep opponents from getting a shot on goal or finding the back of the net.
You Need to Win Faceoffs
This was perhaps the weakest area of my game over the last two versions. I never won the draw, and my overall play suffered.
Here's a video that helped me. Halodiego1509 breaks it down and explains how you can use various strategies to win faceoffs.
If you're constantly losing faceoffs—especially in your defending zone—you're going to consistently struggle to contain your opponents.
Mastering this is essential.
Physical Play and Fighting
There is an obvious risk-reward element to using the game's new Enforcer and fighting engines. You can level guys at every opportunity and be treated to the new animations provided by the improvements to the physics engine, but this approach doesn't necessarily equate to success.
You have to pick your spots to lower the boom and to fight.
Clean hits on guys who have the puck are the safest way to go, but even then, an opposing team's enforcer may choose to engage you in a fight. Now an energy boost for each squad is at stake each time you fight.
In a close game, this can impact the bottom line.
If you do find yourself in a fight, it is smart to utilize all of the controls available in the new mechanics. This is especially the case if you're tangling with a bigger guy, or the opponent simply has a higher fighting skills rating.
Getting punch happy without using the RT (or R2) to dodge attacks will leave you lying on the ice. NHL 14 is a game made up of several smaller games. The more of them you master, the better you'll be.
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