The game introduced an all-new "Road to the Cup" mode, featuring Miis. The mode also includes mini-games, trivia challenges and skills competitions. NHL 2K11 also included things like broken sticks, more responsive skating, improved artificial intelligence and enhanced graphics. The Winter Classic was also added as a mode.
NHL 2K11 received average ratings from critics. The game received an aggregated score of 64% at GameRankings and 62% at Metacritic. GamesRadar reviewer Richard Grisham generally praised the game for its "staggering amount of content" and online integration. However, Grisham criticized the game for its "frustrating" controls and terrible menus.
IGN reviewer Nate Ahearn praised the game for its presentation and online features, but criticized the game for its gameplay, citing "many frustrations when using the Wii Remote".
Game Informer reviewer Matthew Kato criticized the gameplay for the players' skating and "inconsistent shots", giving the game 6.0 out of 10.