Analyzing NHL Playoff Momentum

I’m not generally a big believer in momentum in sports – or at least in sports betting. So much can change from game to game that it’s really tough for a team to keep momentum going. One place where that opinion doesn’t always hold up, though, is in the NHL playoffs. There is something about the sport and the way it is played in the playoffs that lends itself to the building and maintaining of momentum. We’ve seen it almost every year in the playoffs – a team captures some magic, plays well above themselves and just can’t seem to lose. Sometimes the momentum runs out before the finals, but while it last, it can be potent – and highly profitable for bettors. For NHL handicappers, here are five strong indicators of teams that are riding a wave of momentum – or could be soon:

Special teams – Typically, there aren’t a lot of penalties called in the NHL playoffs – at least not compared to a regular season game. Because of that each opportunity a team has on the power play is even more important than it is usually. A NHL team that is on a roll in the playoffs is one that is enjoying particular success either on the power play or the penalty kill. If it’s the power play then they are cashing in when they have the man advantage, and that can be particularly demoralizing for an opponent. If it’s the penalty kill then their opponents are handicapped when they have the man advantage. That can lead to frustration that can bleed over to regular strength as well.

Physicality – The NHL playoffs aren’t rough in the fighting sense, but they are intensely physical. Hockey teams that win in the playoffs are ones that are willing to sacrifice themselves physically. There are two measures of physicality that can be significant indicators of momentum. The first is the number of hits. Good stat sites list the hits in a game. If one team has a significant edge over the other consistently then they are exerting themselves physically. That can bleed into all parts of the game because it sets such an intense tone and it wears the receiving team down. The second physical impact to note is blocked shots. There is a very strong correlation between teams that have a big edge in blocked shots and those that win series. Teams that are blocking a lot of shots are also doing a lot of other things right – playing with defensive intensity, getting in between the puck and the goal, and so on.

Road team play – There is a big difference between winning playoff games at home and winning on the road. A team that enjoys a lot of playoff success – and rides a wave of momentum – is one that plays well on the road. Wins are the obvious indicator of road success. As important for NHL handicappers, though, is if the team is able to play just as well on the road as they do at home – even when playing in front of a hostile crowd.

Public attitude of teams – You can get a pretty strong indicator of where the momentum lies in the series by how the hockey team is interacting with the media. If one team is noticeably more relaxed in interviews – joking and havingmore fun than their opponent – then that’s a very strong sign. Similarly, if a NHL team limits their access to the media or fails to really answer questions when they are interviewed then it could be a sign of tension – and tension never translates into strong play. Basically, you want to look for teams that are reacting to the media in different ways than they normally do – either in a positive or a negative way.

Goaltending – As every savvy sports bettor knows, there is no single more important factor to NHL playoff success than the goaltender. Behind almost every strong playoff run is a goalie playing exceptionally well – often better than expected. You can use the performance of the goalies to evaluate where the momentum lies in a series. There are three key factors here – consistency, save percentage, and clutch play. You want to see a goalie who is playing at a high level every game – not one who is alternating weak games with exceptional ones. You want a guy who has a very high save percentage – typically much higher than their regular season percentage. You also want to see a guy who is able to elevate his play late in games when they are on the line and his play is crucial to the outcome. Of course, NHL handicappers can also use these three factors to find teams that clearly don’t have momentum if their goaltending fails on all three fronts.

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