#3: Bruins @ Canadiens in NHL 12

As two of the “Original 6” teams of the National Hockey League, the history and rivalry between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens has been well-documented over the years.  Though the Canadiens hold the distinction of having the most Stanley Cup victories of any franchise in league history, the tide has turned in recent years as Montreal has made it to the Stanley Cup Final less and less frequently while the Bruins enter the 2011-2012 season as defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Growing up in central Maine with Franco-American grandparents, my earliest memories of watching professional hockey on television involve watching Canadiens games–broadcast in French–on TV5.  As a goalie, it was not difficult to hold Hall of Famer Patrick Roy in high regard while he was manning the nets north of the border.  And, as a result, my allegiance in the storied rivalry leans more towards the bleu, blanc, et rouge instead of the black and gold of Beantown.

For the first STAT BOX STORIES entry using NHL 12, I could think of no better match-up than the Canadiens hosting the Bruins at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

I laced up my skates with the hometown Canadiens, setting the game’s difficulty on All-Star with five-minute period lengths and default sliders for all settings.

With NHL 12, I’ve chosen to combine the box score and shots by period into a single image for analysis in each game.  It’s clear to see here that there is a direct correllation between the shots on goal and how the game played out over the first two periods.  By overwhelming Boston with a suffocating forecheck, I managed to pick up two “garbage” goals on rebounds with many players in red jerseys in front of Tim Thomas.  With the Bruins managing only three shots in the first period, it was easy to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

With only four seconds left in the first period, Boston’s Milan Lucic took a high sticking penalty–perhaps out of frustration at the 2-goal deficit–and that set the scene for Boston’s night to get worse at my hands.

Only 12 seconds into the 2nd period, my powerplay squad was able to extend the lead to 3-0 on a hard slapshot by defenseman Andrei Markov.  Those shots which ricochet off the posts and end up in the net are among the most satisfying you can put in the net as a NHL 12 player, making the goal particularly sweet.  About seven minutes after this tally, I managed to get a breakaway with forward Brian Gionta and he was tripped from behind by a Bruins player, setting up one of the most exciting plays in the game of hockey: the penalty shot.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that–despite years of playing the NHL video game series and significant time spent practicing the dual-stick offensive controls–my shootout skills are almost nonexistent.  In most cases when I play the game, I would much rather get a two-minute powerplay–and the chance to take my time setting up in the offensive zone to convert a special team tally–than put the added pressure on myself to successfully convert a penalty shot one-on-one with the goalie.  This circumstance was no different, as I know that I would be facing the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner as last year’s Stanley Cup Most Valuable Player in Tim Thomas.  As I played the game, I even made a special point to note the penalty shot and when it happened, as I believed that I would be unsuccessful and the play would not be recorded in the stats for the game.

Against the odds, this time I was actually able to convert the penalty shot attempt  and essentially put the game away at 4-0 less than halfway through the second period.  Even though the Bruins managed to score an early goal in the third period to spoil Carey Price’s bid for a Montreal shutout–and even though Boston had almost as many third period shots on goal as they did in the first two periods combined–the final period passed without much difficulty to allow the home team to clinch the rivalry win.

Looking at the team stats, the key numbers to me are the total shots and powerplays.  Through two periods,  I had outshot the Bruins 18-9; double the amount of scoring chances they had in the same period of time.  Even after Boston started to force their way into the offensive zone in the third period to feverishly attempt to tie the game, the final shot differential saw Montreal holding an 8-shot advantage.  As for powerplays, the powerplay goal for Montreal–combined with the penalty shot conversion–gave a team that already had a 2-goal lead even more opportunity to distance themselves on the scoresheet.

One of the inherent “problems” with a blog series like this one is that sometimes, the games that I play might not be all that interesting in terms of the results.  When I sit down to play these match-ups, I’m not retrying until I get a ridiculous result to make the story; I’m taking the first result I get, whether it’s an “Instant Classic” or a blowout going either way.  With the way the first two periods of the game featured such limited resistance from the AI-controlled Bruins, I knew that this would likely be the “dull” game of the first week of STAT BOX STORIES. That said, at least I was able to share a rare penalty shot goal from my time with NHL 12.

Any suggestions for ways I could improve STAT BOX STORIES when recapping NHL 12 action (or any of the other games I’m working with)?  Let me know in the comments, and come back tomorrow for the first entry using FIFA 12!

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