#9: Avalanche @ Red Wings in NHL 12

To begin the third week of STAT BOX STORIES with NHL 12, I return to a rivalry which I was very invested in as a fan of professional hockey in the mid-90’s and early 2000’s.  For nearly ten years, the Colorado Avalanche–newly moved to the Western Conference from Québec–and the Detroit Red Wings of the “Original Six” in the NHL staged some of the more epic battles on the ice.  Western Conference Finals series frequently featured the two bitter rivals, and more than once did the two teams come to blows in their quest to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.  Some of the greatest NHL players to take the ice suited up in burgundy or red, with Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Patrick Roy, Chris Osgood, Peter Forsberg, Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios, Rob Blake, and Nicklas Lidstrom serving as just a few of the many involved in the games.

Having “followed” Patrick Roy from the Canadiens to the Avalanche, I was thrilled at the Stanley Cup Championships of the ’95-’96 and 2000-’01 seasons.  Unfortunately, recent years have not been kind to the Colorado franchise, and a proud team and fanbase has had to suffer through some lean years.  Adding insult to injury in this rivalry, the Red Wings have managed to remain competitive and even appear in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, taking one victory.  With a desire to take an underdog victory and regain Colorado’s foothold in the rivalry, I took the ice in “Hockey Town” as the youthful visiting team.

With a significant deficit in team ratings, I knew that it would be a difficult game on the road.  The Avalanche are outclassed by the Red Wings’ roster at present, and even the addition of a solid goaltender like Semyon Varlamov would significantly test my abilities.

I never thought that it would be a 5-1 loss kind of test, however.   The game started off promising enough, and I was able to score the opening goal of the game off the stick of T.J. Galiardi about midway through the first period.  Given my slow start in recent games of NHL 12, I thought that I might be a good omen for how the rest of the game would turn out.  Even when Detroit was able to tie up the game on a power-play goal at the end of the period, the shots on goal remained close enough for me to believe that my weaker squad had an opportunity to keep the game close.

The opening of the second period, however, began a swift descent towards the final result.  I took my second penalty of the game and off the next face-off, Brad Stuart scored on a slapshot from the blue line just seconds into my penalty kill.  The one-goal deficit lasted exactly ten minutes–again, allowing me to believe that I still had a chance to stay in the game–until Pavel Datsyuk made it a 3-1 game.  Three minutes later, yet another goal for Detroit put the game out of reach even with another full period remaining.

Even though the Red Wings had not yet finished with their scoring for the game, I managed to earn some measure of vengeance in the waning minutes of the game by willfully instigating a fight between Daniel Winnik and Jonathan Ericsson.  Although I am not the biggest fan of how fighting is handled in the NHL video game series these days, there was delight to be had in landing continuous blows until the virtual avatar of my rival’s player fell to the ice before going to the penalty box for 5 hard-earned minutes of penalty time.

Looking at the team stats for the game, one of the more frustrating numbers was how close the final shots total was compared to what the score ended up being.  The game felt so one-sided as it was being played, yet the numbers tell a different story.  Obviously a significant part of the difference between the teams in this game came by way of penalties and power-play goals.  The two penalties I took which resulted in Detroit power-plays both resulted in goals, and in all the Red Wings only needed 1:38 of power-play time to convert those two opportunities into goals.  Another important statistic that I note here is the passing percentage; at under 75%, my team was not being consistent enough to get passes through the blue lines and lead to good scoring opportunities.

When the 3 Stars of the Game were announced, it was no surprise to see three Detroit players who put goals on the board making the list.  Sometimes you just have to take a beating when it isn’t your night, and despite my best preparations it became clear quite early in this game that I would not be able to put together what I needed in order to emerge victorious.    One of the important things for me in this STAT BOX STORIES series of entries, however, has been to stay true to the experience of playing the games–win or lose–instead of trying to only feature glorious victories in these games.  As an athlete in my youth, I came to understand the importance of learning from defeats just as much as learning from the games that were won.  Though a lopsided loss to the CPU in NHL 12 like this may elicit laughter from the readership here, it is all a part of trying to become better at the game so that future game–even if I’m in control of a team severely out-manned by the opposition–can result in closer contests.

Starting off Week 3 with my second consecutive loss in NHL 12 is certainly inauspicious; here’s hoping that I will be able to find victory in FIFA 12 tomorrow as I take control of Seattle Sounders FC against the top team in the MLS this season: the Los Angeles Galaxy.

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