We had an opportunity to get a peek at a nearly finished build of NHL 2K6 for the Xbox at a recent 2K Sports press event. While there, we learned about some major new changes being implemented in the game. The most apparent of these is that the game will take into account all the new rule changes that the NHL has instituted coming out of the yearlong work stoppage. You'll see that the attacking zones are now much larger, forcing defenders to cover more ice and giving the offense more room to set up. The blue lines have been pushed back toward center ice, and the net is a bit further back. You'll also see the new trapezoidal area behind the net, denoting space where the goaltenders are not allowed to handle the puck. The developers assure us that the AI has been tweaked to take into account the new dimensions of the ice so that offenses will properly take advantage of all that space.
One of the more exciting additions to NHL 2K6 is the new pro control passing system. You engage this by pressing down on the right analog stick, which brings up icons for each of the five different buttons next to all your players. What's exciting about this mode is that you can queue up a series of passes by quickly pressing the sequence of players that you want the puck to move around to. If you double-tap the final pass recipient while the puck is still moving around, he'll uncork a one-timer shot at the net. This new passing mechanic feels like it's implemented very well and could be especially useful in power-play situations where you need to make a lot of deliberate passes and puck movement to try to catch the defense out of position.
We also got to check out some of the on-the-fly coaching options, which are basic plays mapped to the D pad for both offense and defense. Offensively, some of the things you can do with this feature include calling for help to dig a frozen puck out of the corner or calling for a screen in front of the goalie, which can help on long slap shots. You can also command the defensemen to pitch in and put additional pressure on the goalie. Defensively there are counters to each of those offensive play calls. You can command your forwards to release up ice, for instance, opening up an opportunity for a breakaway. Since there is no longer a restriction against two-line passing in the NHL, having your forwards release can be especially effective.
The last major addition to the game involves the presence of special players who are denoted as "enforcers." Much like the real-life enforcers of hockey, the enforcers of NHL 2K6 are sent onto the ice to harass and intimidate the other team. You'll know immediately who the enforcers are, as they are denoted with a big red E underneath them. Simply take control of one of them (they're hotkeyed to the white button on the Xbox), and begin checking and harassing the star forward on the other team. As you wear him down, that forward will become intimidated, and his attributes will take a hit.
NHL 2K6 is currently slated to ship on both the Xbox and PlayStation 2. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more information on NHL 2K6 as its release draws near.