Every so often, a betting loss comes along that is so unbearable that it inspires a long sleepless night and a long reflective article. This Tuesday night’s Chicago Blackhawks loss to the San Jose Sharks would be the loss here in reference, and it managed to inspire these four introspective reviews of noteworthy losses from the past seven days. Some of these were simply bad bets, caused by regrettable lapses in judgment, and others were just bad beats, caused by cruel acts of fate. It is possible though, that we could all learn some important lessons from both these mistakes and these misfortunes.
Case #1: [12/22/09] San Jose Sharks at Chicago Blackhawks
Bet: Chicago Blackhawks -140 moneyline
Verdict: BAD BEAT
Those who managed to bet the Sharks on Tuesday December 22nd were treated generously to a heroic goaltending performance from Evgeni Nabokov and precise counterstriking from Joe Thornton and company. Those who bet on the Blackhawks had to suffer frustratingly through those same proceedings. The San Jose Sharks were outplayed by a mile, outshot 47-14, and managed limited possession in the offensive zone. In fact, the Sharks have not played particularly well in any of the 3 matches that they’ve had with the Blackhawks this season, being outshot 41-24 in a 7-2 loss at home, and outshot 30-23 in a 4-3 loss in Chicago. Of course, the Sharks do have an edge in the goaltending department, but when the combined shots on goal head-to-head this season have been 118 to 61, the logical team to bet on has to be the Blackhawks.
The lesson here is to always lean towards the Blackhawks in this head-to-head series, and just pray that they don’t turn the puck over one too many times in the neutral zone, because, unfortunately, Cristobal Huet is the last line of defense.
Case #2: [12/19/09] Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs
Bet: Boston Bruins -105 moneyline
Verdict: BAD BET
There can’t be too much to cry about for those who took the Bruins on Saturday night (I, too, was in that boat). Although, a quick glance at the head-to-head series, in which Boston had entirely dominated over the last two seasons, would have instantly yielded most bettors to jump on the Bruins at a pick’em price, a further look at the circumstances could have held many ‘jumpers’ back. To begin with, the Bruins weren’t playing their best hockey going into this game, having lost to both the Islanders and the Flyers that week, before losing to the Blackhawks the night before. Furthermore, this loss to the Blackhawks was in itself significant, as the Bruins had to come back from a third period deficit to get the game to a shootout. The situation simply didn’t set up for a tired Bruins squad to put forth their best effort. Meanwhile, on the Maple Leafs’ side of things, Toronto had just come off back-to-back games in which they conceded 11 goals combined to the Coyotes and Sabres. Add this to their extra incentive to stop the Bruins offense, which had already torched them for 12 goals in 2 games this season, and there was the perfect recipe for an inspired defensive performance. The Saturday night home crowds at the Air Canada Centre have also lifted the Leafs to some Herculean efforts as of late—add their 2-0 victory over the Bruins to that list.
A few lessons can be taken away from this one. Firstly, to always beware of the team that has extra incentive to put forth an extraordinary defensive effort. Not too often will you find a team that gives up 4+ goals on a nightly basis without any adjustments from the players and coaching staff. Secondly, head-to-head trends should always be taken into consideration, but should never be the sole reason for betting a side in a pick’em game. Teams are always priced where they are for a reason, and pick’em prices would suggest that neither team should be favored too greatly nor should they be instantly jumped on simply for owning a head-to-head series and nothing else. Lastly, beware of the good Saturday night home teams. The Leafs have already beaten the Red Wings, the Capitals twice, and now the Bruins, on Saturday nights at the A.C.C. They might have something going for them there.
Case #3: [12/19/09] Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes
Bet: Over 5.5
Verdict: BAD BET
At first glance, it seemed perfectly understandable to assume that two teams who played to a 6-3 final the night before could certainly play another high scoring affair the night after, especially when one of the teams was the Carolina Hurricanes. However, this again goes back to a team with extra motivation to make defensive adjustments. The Hurricanes were embarrassed on Friday night, and they were not about to face potential embarrassment again on Saturday night by playing the same run-and-gun style. Instead, they slowed the game down, combining with the Panthers for just 54 total shots on goal on Saturday night, and earned themselves a 3-2 revenge win.
This one was also a lesson in teams making adjustments, but on top of this, it also showed what a more motivated team could do, especially when trying to avenge a recent loss. Carolina may very well be the worst team in the league (bottom 5 at least), and Florida one of the hottest (winning 4 of their last 5), but a little revenge and redemption factor seems to go a long way.
Case #4: [12/16/09] Phoenix Coyotes at Toronto Maple Leafs
Bet: Under 6.0
Verdict: BAD BEAT
Prior to this game, the Coyotes had played to 7 straight Unders, only scoring more than 2 goals twice in that span. It was no secret that the Coyotes typically played tight defensive games, and that the Leafs typically played loose high-scoring affairs, but Vesa Toskala at the time was also showing signs of improvement in the Maple Leafs’ net, posting a .900 save percentage against the Senators and a .919 save percentage against the Capitals in the two games beforehand. A posted total of 6.0 just seemed too high to not take a shot with the Under, and it was, until Toronto collapsed in the second period. After just a one-goal first period, the Coyotes scored 4 goals in the second period on just 10 shots. Ilya Bryzgalov also allowed 2 goals on 7 shots in this period, which was uncharacteristic of a goaltender who allows almost exactly 2 goals a game. For whatever reason, the game exploded in face of those who bet the Under 6.0, and the goaltenders just had to combine for a .862 save percentage on the night that such an enticing line was posted.
Perhaps, East vs West games are just more unpredictable, as two teams that don’t play each other often can produce some unforeseeable results. Perhaps, the Leafs’ wildly inconsistent play is also not the best source of winning wagers. Either way, this was a tough loss to bear witness to, given the way that it happened, and how quickly it went from ‘looking good’ to ‘bye-bye money’.
It was another wild week in the NHL, full of both predictable results (Columbus losing all of their games), and interesting surprises (Nashville scoring about 6 goals a game). Hopefully though, with each passing week, we as bettors learn a little bit more about how to make profitable decisions when betting the game of hockey, and the unexpected surprises that cost us our profits become a little less surprising. After all, bad decisions are way easier to foresee than bad bounces, and the less bad decisions that we make for ourselves, the more bad bounces we’ll be able to survive (before we go broke).