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NHL’s broadcast offers fans a different viewing experience in playoffs

The league made its Toronto bubble look and feel like a playoff arena, overall, with some adjustments.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, left, and Philadelphia Flyers warm up before an exhibition hockey game in Toronto on Tuesday.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, left, and Philadelphia Flyers warm up before an exhibition hockey game in Toronto on Tuesday. [ NATHAN DENETTE | AP ]
Published Jul. 29, 2020
Updated Jul. 29, 2020

It didn’t look like playoff hockey and it didn’t sound like playoff hockey, but that had nothing to do with how the players competed on the ice.

On the day of hockey’s return, the NHL gave viewers a different broadcast experience, one they will see for the weeks to come.

The NHL’s postseason debut featured three exhibition games between the Penguins-Flyers, Leafs-Canadiens and Flames-Oilers on Tuesday night.

The Lightning will take on the Florida Panthers at noon today at Scotiabank Arena, and Tuesday’s games gave a good indication of what that broadcast may look like.

Here were some of the things I noticed watching the Penguins-Flyers broadcast Tuesday night:

Related: Lightning eager to play Panthers in exhibition game

Clean but cold look to arena with seat covers

While baseball is using cardboard cutouts to fill major-league stadiums around the country, the NHL went with a complete no-fans look in both Scotiabank Arena and Rogers Place.

The NHL draped gray-blue covers over the seating bowls in both arenas. It provided a clean look to Scotiabank Arena, but was also a grim reminder that there aren’t any fans watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs in-person this year. The rink looked colder and more sterile because of it.

Piped in fan sounds, songs

When Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary notched the opening goal in the Penguins exhibition matchup against the Flyers, the goal horn didn’t sound but “fans erupted” after the puck hit the back of the net.

The NHL used piped-in cheers for the goals scored Tuesday. And yes, Jump Around blared as the players skated toward the bench.

“Fans” groaned after a close shot and “jeered” when officials called a penalty or blew their whistle for a stoppage of play.

Without the fans, it’s possible it was difficult for players to know when they should shoot — especially on the power play — or for the officials to know they made a poor call.

Overall, it was hard to tell just how loud the sounds of the game were over the play-by-play broadcast. The rink mics sounded normal but the fan sounds were harder to determine.

Viewers finally heard the goal horn sound at the end of the game. An overtime goal from Philadelphia’s Scott Laughton warranted it.

Chit-chat on the ice

Sheary commented during his player interview in-between periods that the silence in Scotiabank Arena was strange, but he liked how the players could hear each other and communicate better with the fans’ absence.

Aside from that, the microphones around the rink picked up on the natural sounds of the game such as the sound of metal on ice, players checking into the boards and sticks clacking against each other.

Talking on the ice wasn’t as loud or noticeable than it would be at a live game and I couldn’t hear the coaches, either.

Related: Lightning players, coaches surprised with personalized photo frames in Toronto

What mega screens?

Although the mega video screens added a nice aesthetic for wide shots of the arena, it didn't do much for the in-game experience.

Ahead of the Flyers-Penguins matchup, the screens were shown with the American flag waving during the national anthem.

The screens were shown at the beginning of each period, showcasing the teams’ primary logos and the NHL logo, too. But other than that, and a few occasional shots here and there, the digital screens weren’t all too noticeable during game play.

The screens are much more noticeable in the NBA, where court-level cameras typically include the screens in the camera shot.

Streaming experience

I watched the Flyers-Penguins game on Overall, I would say the streaming experience was an enjoyable one. Typically, I watch the games on NBCSN or Fox Sports, but I thought I’d give the streaming service a try on Tuesday night.

I liked being able to rewind in 10-second increments and rewatch pivotal moments in the game (goal-scoring was a red dot and notable saved shots were gray dots).

The box score was featured at the bottom of the stream with a scoring summary off to the left featuring each player’s goal time, who assisted the goals and a “play” button to rewatch the clip of the goal.

If you’re looking for something different — because at this point in 2020, why not? — I recommend this route.

How to watch Lightning-Panthers

Fans can watch the Lightning-Panthers at noon on Fox Sports Sun, the NHL Network and Those who cannot watch can listen in on 1250-AM WHNZ.

Contact Mari Faiello at Follow @faiello_mari.