Strategy Guide
NHL 09: A Non-Glitcher's Guide to Offense

Over the last two weeks, Operation Sports has covered NHL 09 strategies for defense and goaltending. Therefore, this week it is time to talk a little bit about offense.

First, let me be clear that this guide is not here to show players how to exploit the game’s A.I. via glitch goals like the curve shot and the wraparound, but rather, this article is an attempt to inform people about hockey strategies that will work -- not just on the virtual ice -- but on the real ice, too.

Winning Faceoffs

Though not as important as it used to be prior to patch number two, a player’s faceoff rating still plays a huge role when trying to win faceoffs because it determines just how much "margin for error" the player has when it comes to his timing.

In other words, players with lower faceoff ratings need to have absolutely perfect timing to steal the puck away from a highly rated player, while those with the higher faceoff ratings will have to royally screw up their timing to lose a faceoff against a lower-rated opponent.

Obviously, this means that those who are brave enough to shoulder the responsibilities of the center position, must spend as many points as they can spare on the faceoff attribute.

Better yet, if you make the center a "playmaker," he gets an extra five points in the faceoff category, which can only be matched by the grinder player type. The grinder is a nice counter to the offensive-minded playmaker because the grinder is really more of a "defensive specialist" type of center.

Finally, as for the timing of the faceoff itself, do not worry too much about when to "release" the right stick. Instead, memorize and visualize the reaching animation that your player goes into as he thrusts his stick towards the puck dropping to the ice. You want the stick of your virtual player to reach the center of the faceoff circle right as the puck touches the ice.

Please note, however, that while it can be easy to get the feel for faceoffs offline, the input delay online changes on a game-to-game basis. So, a lot of times it may take a little bit of experimenting and adjusting to find that sweet spot during online games. Just remember that with the online faceoffs, it is always better to guess early than to guess late.

Getting Through the Neutral Zone

Stay onside: Naturally, teams cannot generate much of an offense if they are not getting into the offensive zone. So, of course, one of the most aggravating ways to stop your team from skating into the offensive zone is by constantly crossing the blue line too soon.

Quite honestly, aside from situations where the puck is wildly bouncing around and just so happens to land on your stick while you are in an offside position, there is no reason to ever get caught offside during a game. All it takes to avoid these miscues is enough patience to let the puck carrier enter the zone first, and a little foresight to make sure that your player does not over-skate the play during a potential breakout.

One pass back, two passes forward: Believe it or not, taking the puck and skating in a straight line up the side boards is not the only way to enter the offensive zone.

In fact, despite the popularity of "straight line" skating, it is actually one of the easiest strategies to defend, and one of the worst ways to consistently get through the neutral zone.

In other words, if players tweak their straight-line strategy, they might be amazed to find out how easy it is to catch the typical "swarming" style of defense that you will see online out of position. Honestly, a pass back to a defenseman, followed by quick swing of the puck to the opposite side of the ice and up along the opposite-side boards is a great way to enter the offensive zone.

A simple pass back and swing to the opposite side of the ice will do wonders for catching a swarming defense in its own trap.

Don’t be afraid to dump the puck: It is pretty commonplace online to see players eat body check after body check in the neutral zone and cough up the puck to the other team. Do not be one of those players. It is much easier to simply dump a pass in along the boards and set up a scramble opportunity behind the other team’s goal.

If there is no where to go with the puck (forward or backwards), and there is no way to deke through an incoming body check, the best thing that a player can do to salvage the situation is to throw the puck deep into the offensive zone with a soft pass (right trigger) or a hard wrist shot (right joystick up).

After a defense is caught out of position during a board-side scrum, players will be surprised at how often these loose-puck situations turn into goal-scoring opportunities.

Master the loose-puck deke: Most players probably know that they have to hold down the left bumper (Xbox 360) and move the right joystick horizontally to perform a deke. However, many do not realize that they can increase the effectiveness of that deke by holding the puck out in the opposite direction of the deke a split second before it is executed.

So, for example, if the intention is to make a deke from the left boards to the middle of the ice, simply hold the puck out to the left for a split second (using the right joystick), then hold down the left bumper and push the right joystick from left to right to execute a more fluid deke, which will keep your skater's momentum going and will decrease the chances of the puck squirting away during the move.

Setting Up in the Offensive Zone

Spread out: This really applies to all facets of offense, but particularly in the offensive zone, the more clumped together the offensive players are, the easier it is for the defense to take away shot opportunities and cause turnovers.

While there are many different offensive formations and strategies, one of the most basic and effective formations is the 3-2, which generally has a winger carrying the puck along the side boards, a defenseman giving him a drop-back option from the point, another defenseman in contain position at the middle point/high slot, and the other two forwards split up with one behind the goal line and the other roaming the slot/doorstep area for a high-percentage one timer.

Keep the puck moving: As I said before, it is easy to defend a team that is clumped together, but teams who keep the puck glued to a single player’s stick are also easier to defend than those who shuffle the puck around and keep the defense confused. This is because when teams cycle the puck, you never know exactly which angle the shot will be coming from.

Take good shots: As the old saying goes, players miss 100 percent of the shots they do not take. So, anytime a player gets an open look at the net, it is imperative for him take the shot quickly before a defender can come in and shut down the scoring opportunity.

In NHL 09, players can put themselves in position for a shot the second the puck touches their stick by holding down the vision-control button (left trigger), which will keep their shoulders square to the puck at all times.

However, do not use that old saying as an excuse to rush down and fire off a limp wrister the second the puck enters the offensive zone. Learning to take shots from the highest percentage spots on the ice is what is really going to help a team’s goal totals the most.

Aim your shots: With manual aiming turned on (the default is actually "auto"), players can literally place the puck anywhere they want when shooting at the net.

Of course, with manual aiming turned on, the problem for most players becomes learning where to shoot.

Image: eteamz.com

As the shot diagram suggests, shooting low and stick-side are easily the best options when trying to decide where to aim the puck.

But in NHL 09, knowing where to aim is not always enough because players will also have to figure out how much pressure should be applied to the left joystick when aiming the shot.

Ever since NHL 09's first patch, it has become essential to aim shots with a more "feathery" touch since simply slamming the stick into the corners of the pad tends to send most shots sailing wide of the net.

Grind it out:: Another addition that came via the first patch was the modification to the vision-control button, which has let players use the right joystick to attempt rebound and putback shots in the offensive zone instead of getting stuck in an accidental body check that was likely to cause an interference penalty.

Rebounds are one of the best ways to score a goal off a computer goalie, and it is a shame that more players have not taken advantage of this technique in recent months.

Breakaways: If a player knows what he is doing with the puck, breakaways should result in an easy goal at least 90 percent of the time.

Here is why:

Basic Deke Finishing Forehand Side (Video)

How to perform the move: Hold down the left trigger as you skate at the goalie from a 45-degree angle while dragging the puck out wide. At the last second, pull the puck across your body and finish high on the opposite post with your forehand.

Basic Deke Finishing Backhand Side (Video)

How to perform the move: Hold down the left trigger as you skate at the goalie from a 45-degree angle while dragging the puck out wide. At the last second, pull the puck across your body and finish low on the opposite post with your backhand.

With these moves at your disposal, you should have no trouble reaching into your bag of tricks and pulling out a goal-scoring move during any breakaway situation.

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