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Catching Up with the NHL

T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports Predictions

I live in Canada, so I am surrounded by a skewed awareness of the NHL. It is a condition of citizenship here that you are able to discuss the power play woes of teams, the playoff prospects of the nearest squad, and the injuries that are keeping Canadian stars out of action, even if you are far from a hockey fan. I know, and frankly I'm thankful, that the rest of the world isn't obsessed with hockey like my fellow Canadians are. Despite that, though, hockey games have two teams and you can bet on them, so they are at least worth a little attention. If you haven't been watching the NHL much this year here are 10 things you need to know to get up to speed with what is going on. Happy betting, eh!

1) Home is sweet. Road? Not so much - There are some teams with ridiculous differences in their performance home and away. The most glaring is Minnesota. They have the third best home record in the league, and the second worst on the road. Calgary is almost as bad, and Florida and Boston are other squads that would probably be better off just forfeiting road games and getting some extra rest.

2) The Flyers are grounded - For a good part of the last two decades the Philadelphia Flyers have been a solid, decent team that wasn't much fun to play. Those days are long gone. The Flyers are in the midst of one of those collapses that are so ugly you can't even bear to look. They have just 26 points. The next worst, Los Angeles, has 38. Season ticket holders should be on suicide watch - the team has three wins in 20 home games.

3) The best aren't so hot right now - Buffalo and Anaheim have been the best teams in the league for most of the season. They are still tied for the best record, but some of the luster has faded in recent weeks. Buffalo is only 5-4-1 in their last ten, and the Ducks have struggled to a 3-5-2 mark. Those are far from championship records. As long as they stay parked atop the standings while slumping, there will be some value betting against the public.

4) Don't look for a repeat - Carolina won the Stanley Cup last year and they deserved it. They certainly aren't playing like they want to hoist it again, though. They are second in their division and they will comfortably make the playoffs barring a collapse, but they aren't playing a particularly remarkable or inspired hockey. They are fine, but not great - the Denver Broncos of the NHL.

5) Scoring is fun. It isn't always profitable - There have been some incredible individual performances in the NHL this year. Sidney Crosby, despite being only 19, seems determined to run away with the scoring title. Tampa Bay teammates Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis are tied for second in league for scoring with last year's rookie of the year Alexander Ovechkin. Don't get blinded by the fireworks, though - all three of those player's teams have been pretty bad bets this season.

6) Key injuries aren't always key - Calgary's Jarome Iginla was probably playing the best hockey in the Western Conference, so it would seem logical that the Flames would struggle when he went down with a knee injury. Instead, the team just kept on winning, and they scored seven against Colorado despite missing their chief offensive threat. Ottawa is incredibly hot despite missing Jason Spezza, and having star defenseman Wade Redden on and off the injury list all season. Don't fall into the trap of assuming that a steam is in trouble without a star.

7) Become a Sharks fan - San Jose may not be a hockey hotbed, but the Sharks sure have been great to bet on. They are the top team in the league on the moneyline, they are profitable ATS, and the have gone under 26 times in 43 tries - a sweet 60 percent clip.

8) The Northwest is a mess - The five teams in the Northwest Division - Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Minnesota and Vancouver - are all separated by just five points. There is a new division leader every day. None of the teams are among the true elite of the league, but they are reasonably well matched, they don't like each other and the stupid NHL scheduling means that they will see a lot of each other, so it should be a war down the stretch. Divisional games here are worth a look.

9) The Devils are angelic - New Jersey certainly isn't flashy, but they are quietly playing some of the best hockey in the league. They are 9-1-1 in their last 11 and have essentially clinched their division already. More importantly for you greedy bettors out there, the Devils have gone under in a league best 64 percent of their games, including five of their last six. That's not a fluke, either. The defensive-minded Devils have allowed the fewest goals in the league, and have scored the third fewest, so their games will rarely feature offensive explosions and big overs. The team also has the worst record ATS in the league, so the Devils' opponents and the under is a solid default bet in almost any situation if you don't feel like handicapping.

10) Pay attention to the trade deadline - The trading deadline, Feb. 27 this year, is a huge day in the hockey world. Dozens of trades are made by teams trying to bolster themselves for the stretch drive, and by those trying to dump contracts. The biggest trades almost never have as big of an impact as the media and the public think that they will. That means that people will often overvalue the teams with the new big name skaters. That can be money in the bank if you pick your spots.

Questions or comments? E-mail them to twhenham@docsports.com

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