In the past few years the NHL series increased its physicality with board play skirmishes and mid-ice hits, but there's always been an element missing: the crease battles between defenders and forwards. These tussles aren't as glorious as one-timers, but they create the garbage goals that power forwards pay for by taking bruising cross-checks in the back while trying to screen the goalie. NHL 12 continues its quest for realism by introducing jostling in front of the net, along with its different effects. While this alone would be a welcome addition, it's just one way in which the players and teams are improving.
When an opposing forward camps out in front of your goalie it can cause all kinds of problems. A defender has to engage him and try to move him further out so he can't redirect shots or screen the goalie from oncoming pucks. Having a player in the goalie's face can also create dangerous situations where everyone's scrambling in front of the net for a loose rebound off a deflection.
NHL 12 tries to encompass all of these possibilities with its player-jostling physics down in front of the net or in the slot. These actions are not initiated with any new controls, but fall under NHL's standard "left stick controls the body, right stick controls the hockey stick" controls. Thus, you're free to move around and gain better positioning with your body or stick while you're tied up in a battle for the real estate in front of the net.
The development team at EA Canada has tried to encompass how this kind of grit affects other players on the ice. Goalies can now be run into or bumped, and nets will come off their moorings. Goalies poke their heads around screens and show more desperation when the puck is bouncing around the net, which should hopefully result in more garbage goals from down front if you can get your stick on the puck. This should also make power forwards, who gamers shied away from in previous years thanks to their lumbering pace, actually useful to your team.
Overall, your team could play and feel differently if the developer's AI tweaks and player tendencies come to the surface. EA Canada wants to make it so that players like Sidney Crosby drive the net like they do in real life and grinders finish their checks. The teams themselves should play differently thanks to under the hood strategy tuning, and breakouts through the neutral zone will be varied due to a renewed player positioning logic. EA Canada says players are more aware of teammates, whether that's anticipating a headman pass or straddling the blue line to stay onside.
Hockey is a sport where sheer energy and determination can trump skill. It's cool to see sick dekes and highlight-caliber goalie saves, but sometimes you have to do the dirty work to get the job done. The effort EA Canada is putting into its player jostling and team/player behavior should hopefully light the lamp in NHL 12.
Broken glass has been added, and you can also check players into the benches
NHL 12 introduces the Winter Classic, and it'll re-occur with random teams/locations within the GM mode. Unfortunately, there is no Heritage Classic
Here's a video from EA outlining some of the new features