Hockey picksFebruary 11, 2021

Handicapping Close Games in Today’s NHL

Handicapping close games has always been a fundamental part of playoff hockey. But given the divisional format of today’s National Hockey League, handicapping close games has become and essential skill.

NHL Capper’s Corner

Is it just me, or are things getting a little tight around here? The number of one-goal games has been on the rise of late and as margins tighten, it could signal a great buying opportunity for dog bettors. Based on just a month’s worth of data, here are the trends we’re seeing.

  • From games numbered 1 through 5 (per team), there were 34 outcomes decided by a one-goal margin.
  • From games numbered 6 through 10 (all teams), there was a 41-percent increase to 48 games decided by a one-goal margin.
handicapping close games

Then on Tuesday, Feb. 9, six of seven NHL games were decided by a one-goal margin and the average number of games played per team sits at 12. So what is causing the spike?

Familiarity is the first thought that comes to mind when NHL games start to tighten up. Take the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames, for example. These old Smythe division rivals have already faced each other five times in the span of one month! Two of five went to overtime and other than a 4-1 Jets win at the end of a three-game home stand, each of the four other matchups was decided by a one-goal margin.

Thursday night there are two games on the NHL scoreboard between teams that have already met a minimum of three times this season. Here are some trends to consider for handicapping close games, or games that could be closer than expected.

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Ottawa at Winnipeg
Thursday, 02/11, 8:00 PM ET
Line: Jets -200 and 6.5 UN -120

The Senators (2-11-1) have earned just five of 28 possible points in regulation (.179), the lowest mark in the NHL. Their power play and penalty kill are in the bottom third of the league, and although their advanced analytics rank much higher, this team follows a familiar path. The fall behind early and then lack the offensive punch to mount a comeback.

  • In 14 games this season, Ottawa has held the lead through 20 minutes just twice.

Winnipeg (7-4-1) used a three-game set against the Sens (Jan. 19-23) to spark an offense that ranks ninth in the league with 3.42 goals per game (GPG). Pierre-Luc Dubois finally joined the team after two weeks in quarantine, and while HC Paul Maurice shuffles to find his ideal line combinations, the Jets will be a threat to score at anytime.

Winnipeg outscored the Sens 14-5 in the first three games, but the average moneyline was just -127. As difficult as it is to imagine the lowly Sens pulling an upset, this game fits the scenario of a team potentially being overvalued to a tee.

  • Against poor defensive teams, Winnipeg has played 30-20-1 UNDER (60%) the past two seasons, outscoring their opponents 3.0-2.6.

Winnipeg only won 16 of those 51 games (31%) by more than one goal. Ottawa has also played seven of their past eight games UNDER the total.

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Anaheim at Las Vegas
Thursday, 02/11, 10:00 PM ET
Line: Knights -235 and 5.5 OV -115

These two teams met twice in the first week of the season and then again on Feb. 9. Vegas (8-1-1) cashed in for two points in all three games and it has been the same old story between these two since Day 1.

  • Vegas has a 13-2 (.867) record against the Ducks all-time, their highest win percentage against any team in the NHL.

The Knights are also 5-1 in the second half of a back-to-back following a win in the opener, but the Ducks (5-6-3) are getting a goal and-a-half for just -125 in this matchup, and there is reason to believe it could stay close.

  • When the posted total was 5.5, teams that had met more than three times in the first half of the season played UNDER 78 of 133 times (59%) the past 15 years.
  • Divisional road teams with triple revenge are 63% likely to play UNDER in this situation, going 140-81.

Vegas has scored 18 goals the past four games and the Ducks are off a game where more than eight total goals were scored. Home teams in this spot are only 36-53, a 60% play AGAINST angle. And that’s on the moneyline!

NHL Watchlist

Keep an eye out for the following rematches on Saturday between teams that have already met a minimum of three times in the first month of the season. Steps for handicapping close games on the side or total could be crucial with St. Louis and Arizona. Four of the past five between those two have been decided by one goal.

  • Senators at Jets
  • Blues at Coyotes
  • Capitals at Sabres
  • Wild at Kings

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