It can be very difficult for handicappers to determine how a NHL team is going to perform down the stretch in the regular season once they have their playoff spot sewn up. Some hockey teams never take their feet off the accelerator, looking to build as much momentum as they possibly can to carry them into the playoffs. Other teams look to rest their players, heal their wounds, and be as fresh as possible when the most grueling postseason in sports starts. Getting a sense of which approach is likely for a team can help the smart NHL handicapper find nice value – and avoid costly mistakes. Here are six factors for sports bettors to consider when looking to assess how a team is likely to respond to their postseason security:
Can they improve their seeding? – The first thing NHL handicappers need to look at is whether they can significantly improve their seeding. It needs to be a change that can have a meaningful impact. If a hockey team can potentially move from sixth place to fifth, for example, then it isn’t likely to be a big motivating factor – both the fifth and sixth place teams open on the road, and the opponents are likely relatively comparable in the first round. If they are able to move into one of the top four seeds, though, or they can win their division to move into the top three, then that could be a serious motivating factor, and could absolutely cause them to step up their intensity and continue their strong play.
How healthy are they? – If a NHL team is feeling healthy then they could easily continue their play to maintain momentum into the playoffs. If they are struggling to stay healthy, though, then getting as healthy as they can will be absolutely the first priority. Players who are on the sidelines don’t really matter here – they won’t be playing until they are healthy no matter what. What hockey handicappers need to focus on is whether the core players on the team are completely healthy, or if they are playing but banged up. Players in the latter case are very likely to sit as much as they can to get ready for when the games really matter.
Does the coach let his teams ease up? - Sports bettors can learn a lot about how a hockey team might respond in a situation based on how the coach has responded in the past in a similar situation. Coaches are creatures of habit, so they are likely to repeat a past approach – especially if it worked well for them. Of course, this only works well if the coach is a veteran NHL coach who has been around long enough to have been in a similar position before.
How strong has their recent form been? – A team can clinch a NHL playoff spot despite relatively poor recent play if the teams around them that they are competing against are playing worse. When a team clinches a playoff spot relatively early then people will assume that the team is playing well and that they will play like a strong playoff team down the stretch. If that’s not likely to be the case based on their recent play, though, then there can be nice value to be found by the experienced NHL handicapper.
Who do they play? – The opponent that a team faces can be a big factor, but not always in the way that you might expect. For example, if a NHL team is playing an opponent that they are going to face in the first round of the playoffs, or that they could play in the playoffs if they win a round or two, then they are not at all likely to play their best when they face that team in the regular season. There is no incentive to play in top form and give the opponent more experience in playing on the ice against them. Games like that are often very dull to watch because neither team wants to give their opponent a future edge, so both hockey teams play a very reserved style.
Where do they play? – NHL teams that have little to play for are likely to perform better at home than on the road. For starters, it is much easier to play at home than on the road in the NHL. On top of that, the team will want to play hard for their fans to keep them excited heading into the playoffs, and the crowd is likely to be fired up in anticipation of the postseason. In a situation like this NHL handicappers need to note that the impact of game location can be more significant than it normally would be.