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Over/Under Handicapping

This is a hockey article from Barry Patrick, contributed to Winner’s Edge in 1996. It was a part of their Memory Lane feature this past season, where past articles with handciapping value are re-printed. Despite being dated (s0me players mentioned have retired or switched teams), the principles of wagering on the over/under are still relevant and helpful. This is part one to the article.

To say the option of betting on the over/under has swept the wagering population would be overstating the situation somewhat. But, the over/under has become an increasingly popular wager amongst Canadian sports bettors, including of course those who play on the NHL. While the numbers show that the over/under is still clearly a second choice for the majority of sports bettors, whether you wager through the lotteries or elsewhere, it does have a growing group of followers. The opportunity to play on the total goals scored in a hockey game adds an extra chance for profits to each game. This is something that all bettors should take notice of, and work hard to master. Many sharp players, and handicapping services are doing well on the over/under plays, so if you’re not in on it, here’s your chance to start.

This week’s article is the first installment of a two-parter on handicapping the over/under in the NHL. Next week I’ll finish off by putting together the entire totals handicapping package. All the factors one should be aware of when wagering on the over/under will be covered. What I will focus on here is the importance of looking at two team’s head-to-head histories when handicapping matchups for potential over/under wagers.

These past meetings are one of the cornerstones to the entire analysis, being a valuable base from which to build your final opinion. In fact, when I look over past results, they have the potential to be a very significant part of the basis for a play. In some cases, these numbers are the main basis for either a play, or the reason for laying off a wager. Now remember, as always, we never use only one criteria, or one set of numbers to make a play, but rather use these past performances as an extremely important part of a well-rounded strategy.

First of all, looking back at games which are directly related to the one you are analyzing is standard handicapping. When searching for an over/under winner, it is no different. By analyzing the head-to-head histories of the two opponents, we are able to determine if there is a pattern to the play of the two clubs when they face each other. Being able to establish if there is a fairly consistent flow to their matchups can be invaluable. Do they clog up the play, or is it a freewheeling type of a game? You will find that certain teams have a propensity to play each other in a similar fashion over a period of time, particularly if there are no major changes in personnel, or in coaching philosophies.

The Detroit Red Wings are a team that seem to, by reviewing their past head-to-head history, constantly play the same teams, the same way. Their record of six overs/18 unders and one push vs. the Calgary Flames in their last 25 meetings indicates that these two teams prepare for each other the same each time. This season so far, true to form, they have played two unders and a push. On the other side of the over/under equation, the Wings play a completely different style vs. the San Jose Sharks. They have recorded eight overs/one under/one push in their last 10 games vs. each other, including this season’s two overs and a push. It’s almost as if the talented Detroit team believes they can blow this team out in every meeting, thus the offensive attack is turned up, with the players all looking to rack up some big offensive numbers. When the Wings face the Sharks, even stay at home type defensemen like Bob Rouse are breaking up ice, dropping into the slot, and generally playing a more offensive-minded game.

To take it another step, when one is researching the head-to-head histories of the teams, it is vitally important to divide the totals into home and away categories. A handicapper should be aware of the fact that many teams play different styles of hockey depending on if they are in front of their home town fans, or on the road. Thus, the head-to-head numbers are that much more valuable when they are looked at with the knowledge of what happened where.

A good example comes from the Dallas Stars and the Los Angeles Kings. Their overall over/under record in their last 18 meetings is an unexciting eight overs/nine unders and one push. A first glance reveals nothing in terms of a worthwhile trend. However, when we break those totals down into home and away categories we come up with a pair of stats that are potentially useful. The Stars have a home record vs. the Kings of seven overs/two unders/ and one push. When the Stars visit LA, they are the opposite, posting a one over/seven under/ and zero pushes record. They obviously have different game plans dependent on where they face each other. This type of pronounced juxtaposition is not as apparent in all the franchises, but it is clear that whether a team is home or away needs to be incorporated into any totals handicapping strategy. Even when facing the same opponent. Listed in the chart are matchups still to be played this season between teams that have racked up lopsided over/under results. Go through the list and check to see if there is reason to believe the trends should, or shouldn’t change. When you add the conclusion to this article (coming next week) to your strategy, you’ll be armed to identify solid total wagers for the remainder of this year, and for NHL seasons still to come.

Here is Part II to Barry Patrick’s 1996 article on what to look for when wagering on Over/Unders in the NHL.

In Part 1, I wrote about the usefulness of head-to-head histories in making over/under wagers on NHL games. This week I’m going to continue on the over/under topic, looking at some of the other factors that need to be considerd when searching out winners. There is so much information available to the totals bettor, that he or she should be able to identify at least a few solid plays each week if they take the time and use the right information. Here then, are some other factors besides head-to-head histories to help you uncover winning total wagers.

They are an important factor any over/under bettor should take into account. A solid goaltending effort, or a poor one, can make the difference between a winning or losing ticket. Virtually everyone knows that Dominik Hasek is going to provide his team with a strong effort. Everyone including the oddsmakers, which means you won’t get any breaks on the number. However, Hasek is one of those goalies that, alone, can make an under bet worthwhile. You should have, at the very least, some basic knowledge of how most starting netminders are currently playing. Is the Sharks’ Mike Vernon struggling, or has been solid in his last five or more starts? Try to find matchups between two hot goalies, or between a pair of tenders who have been experiencing difficulties. Look at shots on goal for an indicator of current performance level. If a goalie isn’t facing many shots (under 25), but consistently allows two or three goals, this is a goalie worth keeping an eye on for a potential over play when the situation is right. The opposite is also true for a goalie who is getting shelled, but still only allowing two or three goals. Expect him to continue to stand on his head, but in the right situation, his teammates should give him more support. It is important to know what is happening in the crease when you playing the over/under game.

Another important factor I look at is a team’s current form. To do this, I evaluate the results from a club’s last five games. Some handicappers insist on using a 10-game cross-section, which is fine, but over the years I’ve found five games to be not only sufficient enough, but a more accurate indicator. A 10-game record of seven overs, two unders and one push suggests a fairly strong “over” trend. However, it’s not uncommon for a trend such as this to be turning around when looked at from a 5-game perspective, revealing a two overs, two unders, one push record in their most recent games. I take the last 5 games primarily to see if there is anything that sticks out in a team’s recent play. A significant trend one way or the other means further digging is in order to find out why those games have gone the way they have. We look at injuries, special teams, goaltending, line juggling, style of opponents, over/under lines posted, etc.

Always be sure to take a team’s current form into account when trying to identify over/under plays. Almost all of the information you need can be found right here in the Winner’s Edge.

The next handicapping tool we use in the strategy is the home and away goals for and against average. This statistic can be very helpful as a reference point for over/under handicapping. A sort of guideline to begin your handicapping from.

By using statistics, we are able to come out with a rudimentary number that starts us off. For example, this Saturday, March 7th, the Red Wings travel to the West Coast to play the LA Kings. Using the stats as of February 24th, we see the Red Wings have averaged 3.1 goals for on the road, while allowing 2.4 goals against. Added together, those two tally up to an average of 5.5 goals overall (3.1 + 2.4). The Kings home totals are 3.5 goals for and 2.6 against. That totals up to 6.1. We then add the final numbers from both teams together (5.5 + 6.1) to get 11.6. Then we divide this by two (11.6 divided by 2 = 5.8). So, based on the scoring averages of both teams, this game should produce almost six goals (5.8). That is a reference point derived without any other information. Now is the time to factor in everything else (current form, starting goalies, home/away, head-to-head history, etc.) This number, 5.8, is only the starting point from which we’ll begin our handicapping.

One of the over/under factors I began taking into account about four seasons ago is how a team plays at home as opposed to on the road. My experience has been that looking at home and road peformance can either be one of the most important, or one of the least important. What we look at here is a club’s numbers over/under totals when playing at home, and then when playing on the road. The reason I believe it’s important to check this is due to the fact that, unquestionably, there are some teams that play a different style of hockey depending on if they’re home or away. Every year there are teams that fall into this category. This season, some examples are: the Pittsburgh Penguins (eight overs, 18 unders and four pushes on the road, 14 overs, 10 unders and two pushes at home), the LA Kings (nine overs, 14 unders and four pushes on the road, 14 overs, 11 unders and one push at home). Some teams play a very conservative road game, tight-checking, trapping, etc. Just trying to get at least one point and get out. But, these same teams can play a more wide-open, entertaining style in their own rink, attempting to give the fans their money’s worth. Check out the stats to determine for yourself what teams are showing a pattern of adjusting their philosophy and style dependent on where the game is taking place.

Conference vs. Non-Conference
This is another area one must be aware of when looking for totals winners. Some teams definitely play a different style if they are playing vs. a conference foe, opposed to an opponent from the other conference. Conference battles often take on extra importance, therefore can result in a closely-played game in which neither team wants to make any mistakes. Thus, they can be much more defensive-minded contests. This season, the Montreal Canadiens have displayed a pattern of opening up their game against the Western Conference, while keeping things a little more under wraps when battling a counterpart from within their conference. This is not unusual, and should be something that is taken into account. When handicapping a matchup, factor in the “conference/non-conference” role.

Last week I discussed the value of using head-to-head histories for identifying potential over/under plays. It is important to note that those past results have their limitations and one of the reason’s for that is because of a lack of job security amongst NHL head coaches. With the major overhauls constantly taking place, us over/under players need to take this into consideration. New coaches bring new philosophies. A couple of examples from this season can be found in Pittsburgh and Boston. The Penguins’ coach, Kevin Constantine, has been successful in his efforts to institute a defensive component to the Pittsburgh gameplan that didn’t exist in the past few years. The result has been a team that more often than not plays in games that go under the total, not over as had been the case last season. The same scenario is happening in Boston, where Pat Burns realized he needed a tight-checking game if he was to win with the limited talent available to him. The team has picked up Burns’ defensive message, resulting in the team playing in far fewer overs than they did last season. These coaching changes are important to account for when looking at those head-to-head records, as well as accounting for in everyday handicapping.

If you commit to using at least some of the information from this article as well as part one last week, you will find you’re over/under winning percentage climbing. Be aware that there are other factors that haven’t been covered, but here you have a good base that will help you to prosper when added to experience making this bet. Be assured; fine tuning your winning handicapping system will be a constant activity. It takes some work, but it can be well worth it.


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