Pre-season pucks have been dropped, mullets are in full bloom, zambonis are zamboniing - that's right, hockey is back. Along with the new season come two new video games, EA's NHL 10 and 2K Sports' NHL2k10. Which one is better? Keep reading to find out...

NHL 10

* Skating, passing and shooting continue to be as smooth as ever. The button-tapping mixes seamlessly with the shot stick. Tight camera angles offer a clear view of the action while staying far enough out for you to find holes in the defense.

* A new Board Play physics engine ramps up the rough-housing on the glass. Hold down the triangle button to prop yourself up against the boards and then tap the trigger button to kick out the puck to a teammate. If you're on the outside, you can pin an opponent on the boards and try to poke the puck out, too. The simple controls make for an easy to transition into and out of standard gameplay.

* First-person fighting takes you into the eyes of an enforcer. Once a fight has been picked, you see what your player sees as you go skate-to-skate with your opponent. Similar to shooting, you use the right toggle stick to throw quick jabs (up) and slower but more powerful uppercuts (down and up). It's like EA dropped a Fight Night mini-game into a hockey sim.

* Thanks to post-whistle action, most of said fights get kicked up after the whistle blows. Now you too can be like one of those goons who won't leave well enough alone, even after official action takes a break. Give a little extra love tap, flick an extra shot on an empty net, do whatever you feel -- just be prepared to face the corresponding repercussions.

* You can methodically build a champion in Be A Pro and Be A GM mode or jump right into the most intense hockey of the year in Battle for the Cup mode. We don't know if Lord Stanley would approve of such instant gratification in regards to his precious cup, but we sure do.

NHL 2K10

* The action can seem a little slow. A turbo button does little to really help a break away and the players take forever to change directions. Too often you feel like your players are sloshing through slushy ice.

* That being said, there are some cool minor gameplay tweaks that spruce up the on-ice action. Keep the puck moving from player to player by just holding down the pass button in transition. The newly named Ovi Deke offers a continuation of the cool puck-handling tricks you can pull while taking on a goalie one-on-one.

* The all-new Stumble Shot looks fantastic in theory (inspired by coverboy Alexander Ovechkin's famous shot from the seat of his pants against the Phoenix Coyotes) but it's very difficult to pull off during regular gameplay. Bank on tossing your controller in frustration a few times before you finally put together an Alexander the Great-like highlight reel.

* Stick lifts are both cool and useful. Using your right toggle stick, you can poke at opponents, lift your stick to stop flying pucks and just generally disrupt and annoy the man you're defending. It's the best example of the right directional stick controlling your player's stick in 2K10.

* The special moves look good when you pull them off in the flow of the action, but they also occasionally take the controller out of your hand. Pull off the proper combo and you can be locked into a deke for a couple of seconds. Mostly these are rewarding, but there are moments in the heat of battle where you might be irritated that your player is trying something fancy when a simple pass or shot would've done the trick.

* It may be silly and unrelated to anything of substance, but the Zamboni mini-game remains one of the best between period time wasters in hockey games.

NHL 10

* Simply put, NHL 10 wins here. From pre-game intros to on-ice action, everything looks and performs crisply. The players move naturally, the fans pound on the glass when the away team gets too close, the ice carves up throughout the period. Yet again, EA delivers a meticulously sleek game.

NHL 2K10

* The player movement isn't as smooth as NHL 10, but the details are pretty spectacular. Player faces look more realistic than ever -- you can distinguish individual stars easily. As if last year's playoff beards weren't enough, this year takes into account beard volume. Those younger guys will look every bit as scraggily and creepy in your simulated Cup playoffs as they do during Versus broadcasts.

* Comparing announcers in sports games is like comparing the sound of fingernails on a chalk board to the Jonas Brothers. Either way, you're going to cringe. That being said, amongst the repetitive sound bites spewing from both of these games, NHL 10 managed to mix things up a little by giving their talking heads (Gary Thorne and Bill Clement) a couple of historical factoids and jokes to bandy about. Either way, we're still a long ways from getting announcers in video games that don't get repetitive by your third game.

* Traditional soundtrack options abound on both 10 and 2K10. However, if you want to add your own musical stylings (Jonas Brothers, perhaps?), NHL 10 let's you make a CD and upload it to the game. You can even set which songs you want to play during different parts of the game. It's a great solution for a replay-heavy title would otherwise deliver a tedious soundtrack.

NHL 10

* You mostly get the standard playing options here. The EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) offers up a newly minted Monthly Season, which pits online gamers against each other for bragging rights every time the calendar turns a page. There are occasional slow downs when too many online players get bunched up going after the puck, but other than that, you get what you're accustomed to.

NHL 2K10

* Here's where 2K really steps it up a notch. Going online is just like any other option in the main menu. Challenge or team up with friends in any mode, from Create a Team to the light-hearted pond hockey. The ease with which you can log on is a big step towards making online play as natural a part of gaming as turning on your console.

2K is certainly closing the gap on EA's dominance in virtual hockey. Cool innovations like the smoothest online access we've seen in a sports game might be the type of key feature the franchise can build around going forward. Still, EA holds the upper hand. The practically real world HD graphics don't falter amidst natural player movements during gameplay and the instinctive controls are a flawless extension from the players to your controller. While 2K10 continues to make strides, NHL 10 does the best job of taking you onto the ice and into the action.

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