Hockey games make for thrilling betting opportunities. Below you’ll find some winning hockey handicapping strategies. We explain how to take advantage of rest, when to bet the puck line, the importance of closing line value, and advanced metrics to use.
Be sure to review our complete hockey betting tutorial here.
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Be Aware of the Rest Advantage
Hockey is one of the most physically taxing sports. The amount of rest a team has banked is a crucial handicapping metric. Rested teams have a clear advantage over tired ones.
Review how many games a team has played leading up to the contest. Teams on the second half of a back-to-back will be low on energy. Also, those that have played multiple games without many days off in between each matchup.
One system you can use to your advantage is betting on a favorite coming off two to four days of rest. The team would ideally be coming off a loss and playing against a team on the second half of a back-to-back. This betting system is specific. But if you bet every game that matched this system, since 2005, you would have won at a 62.4% clip. The key to this system is using both rest and motivation (favorite coming off a loss) to your advantage.
When to Bet on the Puck Line
In hockey, the puck line is almost always 1.5 goals either way. So in most cases, a favorite will become the underdog on the puck line. Scoring has been up in the NHL in recent years, which can lead to more variance in games and scores that can end up more lopsided. Look for favorites that have the rest advantage if you want to bet on the puck line. A more obvious angle is to look for high-scoring offenses playing against poor defenses.
Do not bet on the puck line simply because the moneyline is too high of a price to pay. You should have a clear handicapping reason to bet on a team to win by two goals in a sport where goals can sometimes be hard to come by.
Bet on the First Period Total
The key to this bet is to pair up good offensive teams that have bad defenses. As goal scoring has increased over the years, it took a while for books to keep up with the first period over lines. These lines are often juiced up so high that the bet no longer makes sense. When this happens, there may be value on taking the first period under.
Research how teams have been trending before placing a bet on the first period total. Some teams are particularly adept at having their games go over the total in the first period. Teams that also may be disadvantaged by a lack of rest may not feel that fatigue until periods two and three.
In the 2018-2019 season, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning were hitting the first period over with high consistency. Entering the week of February 24, 2019, Chicago Blackhawks games were hitting the first period over at a rate of 78%. The reason for this was mostly due to a bad Blackhawks defense. Chicago was allowing the second-most goals per game, while the offense was ranked 9th in goal scoring.
Conversely, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s elite offense was doing the heavy lifting in their games, scoring over 1.3 goals per game in the first period, while allowing one goal against on average.
Closing Line Value
Getting closing line value is when you bet on a team like the Penguins at -150 and then see the line move up to -175 by the time the game starts. If you can consistently be on the right side of the closing line value, you will find yourself winning bets more often.
It’s one thing to say “get closing line value,” and it’s another to actually pull it off. The only way to become effective at consistently pulling off closing line value is to study the lines daily and track each team’s rest situation. Over time, you will be able to spot values on the board if you get to the lines quick enough.
Advanced NHL Stats
Getting familiar with advanced stats will allow you to make your own conclusions on each team. Rather than relying on pundits or the standings, advanced stats tell a much more detailed story of each team.
The most referenced advanced hockey metric is Corsi. What Corsi measures is a team’s shot attempts during 5-on-5 situations. If a team has a shot on goal, that counts towards Corsi For, and when the opponent puts a shot on goal, that counts for Corsi Against.
So when you see CF%, that is the percentage of shots that a team took on the opposition. Teams above 50% have more shots on goal on average than the opposition, and vice versa. And the more shots a team takes, the better chance they have of scoring.
xGF% vs. GF%
This stat refers to a team’s expected goals for percentage. Look to bet on team’s that have a lower GF% than xGF%, as they should begin to score goals at a higher rate than they have been. For example, in the 2019-2020 season the Ottawa Senators have a GF% of 45.4 but they’re xGF% is 49.7. This means that the Senators have likely been unlucky on goals scored, and they could provide value as an underdog.
This refers to the percentage of scoring chances a team has. SCA% would refer to scoring chances against. You, of course, would prefer to bet on team’s that have more scoring chances. A more advanced way to use this stat would be to look for teams that have under-performed their expected goals for but also have above a 50% SCF%.