The NHL does a better job than most leagues of scheduling their playoff series so that the games are played at a balanced pace – a game every other day or so. Sometimes, though, there are situations that lead to an extended break of three or four days or even more between games – particularly in cities in which teams play in a busy building that they share with other teams. When these longer breaks happen they present a real challenge for handicappers. You need to be conscious of the impact the break could have, and whether those impacts could be more significant for one team than the other. Here are five factors to consider when trying to determine the impact of these longer breaks:
What was happening before the break? – The importance of a break can be largely determined by what came before that break. For example, a team that has been playing unexpectedly well and winning games convincingly may not welcome the break because it challenges their momentum and gives them too much time to think about what they have been doing and why it works. On the other hand, a team that is struggling could welcome the break because it gives them a chance to regroup, recharge, and come up with solutions to the biggest problems that have gotten in the way of their success. Beyond the momentum in the series you can look at factors like how much they have been playing recently. If a series has an abnormally long break then there is also a good chance that there will be some games played in a short period of time so that the series can end at the same time as the others. If those tight games have already happened then the break could be more of an advantage for an older team than a younger one because the rest will be more valuable.
How badly do the teams need it? – This is really an extension of the last point. There are a number of reasons why a team could need a break – for example, they could be older or more tired because of what they have been through and in need of a rest, they could be banged up and in need of time to get healthier, they could be struggling in a key part of the game like the power play or penalty kill and need time to work on it, or they could be struggling to address the strategy their opponents are using effectively, and could need practice time to overcome their problems. Obviously, the less a team needs a break, the lessof an advantage the break is, and if one team needs the break far more than the other they will likely benefit from it more as well.
What are they doing during the break? You can tell a lot about how a team is feeling by how they handle a few days off. Did they practice intensely, or were players given time off? Did they communicate freely with the media, or were they quiet? If the break came between road games did they stay on the road, or did they return home? If they had an optional practice how many players showed up? You can learn these types of details and more from local newspapers and fan websites, and they can be invaluable in getting an indication of the mindset of the team, their mental and physical health, and what you might expect from them going forward.
How well do they handle layoffs? – Teams have inevitably had some similar breaks during the regular season. The comparison between those breaks and this one isn’t perfect because of the intensity and pressure of the playoffs, but it’s still useful. A team that was really lousy at bouncing back after a rest in the regular season isn’t likely to suddenly learn to be great at it in the playoffs. A team that bounced back very strong after a rest – alert, prepared, and tough to beat – could do the same here. If the performance after a break was particularly striking one way or the other then the media could pick up on it and the public could take note as well.l
Will the public perceive an advantage for one team? – At least as important in sports betting as how teams are likely to respond in a situation is how the public is likely to respond. In the playoffs betting volumes are high, and the public is paying more attention – and betting more money – than they normally do. That means that they are having a bigger impact than normal on how lines are set and how they move. Often times after a long layoff there will be one team that will be perceived to have an advantage in the next game. If your opinion of the size of that advantage seems to differ from the public perception then you might find attractive value.