Computer Picks: January 12th’s NHL Games Handicapped by a Machine

Updated: January 12, 2010 at 12:26 pm by Jeff Tay

For what it’s worth, I intend to publish the following segment for at least the next 7 days, which is a task that I have thus far not come close to accomplishing since writing for DailyFaceoff. Many weeks ago, I attempted to break down a total of 13 Saturday NHL games in one sitting; in a segment I called “Homework on a Friday Night”. However, the thought of enduring a similar 10 hour research and writing session (4 hours research – 6 hours writing) weighed heavily into my decision to not reproduce the segment for subsequent Saturdays—especially not during the recent holiday season.

Various events over the last few weeks have led me to produce this particular piece though (the loss of my old computer, the acquisition of my new computer, having lots of free time), but instead of telling the lengthy back-story of how ‘Computer Picks’ came to be, I think it would be preferred if I just explained how ‘Computer Picks’ worked (and then quickly moved onto the good stuff; the picks).

Quite frankly, the name “Computer Picks” is already somewhat misleading, because technically, a computer is not needed at all in the process (although it does make things a whole lot easier). What I am actually using to handicap the following NHL games is a formula, which evaluates the recent performances of the teams involved, under similar circumstances to what they will be facing in the games that they are about to play. Of course, this is far from a groundbreaking concept, as almost every sports gambler uses past results to aid them in their attempts to predict the future. However, where this system lacks in its ability to break new ground, it makes up in its ability to eliminate personal bias from the equation, and make quick and cold calculated picks based on raw data.

I’ll probably explain more about this formula over the course of this week, but for now, here are Tuesday’s NHL predictions from an unbiased emotionless machine, that has analyzed the recent play of the teams involved under specified conditions. I’ll also provide a brief explanation of the key factors which contributed to each prediction, and how the games should be bet.

Game #1: Ottawa Senators 3 – Atlanta Thrashers 3

Explanation: The actual projected numbers for this game are Ottawa 3.44 to Atlanta 3.28 (goals). However, we have just encountered the formula’s first weakness here; the minimal consideration of key injuries to Ottawa’s lineup. The absence of 3 of Ottawa’s top 6 forwards will definitely hinder Ottawa’s ability to score more than 3 goals in this game. On the other hand though, they are playing the Thrashers, who have been conceding goals at an almost unbelievable rate. The Thrashers inconsistencies on offense lately definitely weighed heavily into their projected number of 3.28 goals in this game, as the Sens are no defensive stalwart themselves.

Best Bet: My first instinct is to steer clear of this game because of how poorly both of these teams have been playing. The formula suggests playing the Over 6.0 if you must, but there’s not a lot of margin there to work with either because the projected total is only 6.72 goals combined.

Game #2: Dallas Stars 2 – Philadelphia Flyers 4

Explanation: The Flyers are a running a good offense lately and the Dallas Stars have been conceding between 3 and 5 goals on a nightly basis. Meanwhile the Stars offense on the road hasn’t had too much to offer, and the Flyers have shown, at times, that they can keep the puck out of their own net. This prediction didn’t require rocket science or the use of a computer-processed formula.

Best Bet: The more accurate projected numbers for this game are Dallas to score 1.74 goals and Philadelphia to score 4.35 goals. If we break down the projected score in this game, we have Philadelphia as a 71% favourite to win the game, and therefore, taking them at -170 would still be a correct play, despite the big juice (1.59 x 71% = 13% gain). Flyers moneyline is perhaps the most profitable option here.

Game #3: New Jersey Devils 3 – New York Rangers 2

Explanation: The Devils beat the Rangers 4-2 in an earlier meeting this season at MSG. One factor that really lowers the Rangers’ projected score in this game is their recent play at home after multiple days of rest. The Rangers don’t seem to be as sharp at home when they are an over-rested team, but their defense has been great and should be able to keep the game close. New Jersey is the better team here though, and should expect to win.

Best Bet: New Jersey as a pick’em seems to be the way to play this one. The Rangers have a reasonable shot at winning, but New Jersey is probably the better choice at this price.

Game #4: Detroit Red Wings 3 – New York Islanders 2

The Red Wings have very consistently played to a total of 5 combined goals per game as of late, producing an abundance of 4-1 and 3-2 scores. A lot of people may like to count the Islanders out of every game that they play in, but the Islanders have actually been on a pretty solid run themselves, going 5-2-1 in a string of 8 consecutive one-goal games. The projected numbers here make a lot of sense when considering these trends.

Best Bet: If the Red Wings are in the range of being a 55% favourite to win, then -150 is actually a little too much juice to be laying here (1.67 x 55% = 8% loss). There is actually a little bit of value in taking the Islanders as an underdog, but perhaps the Under 5.5 is the best way to play this one. The projected total is 4.81 combined goals.

Game #5: Carolina Hurricanes 2 – Toronto Maple Leafs 2

Explanation: A 2-2 score may seem shockingly low for these two teams, but the Leafs have actually had their last 5 home games go under the total. The Hurricanes have similarly gone under the total in all of their last 5 games as well. With neither team scoring much lately, maybe a low-scoring game could take place.

Best Bet: Personally, I wouldn’t feel too comfortable playing the Under 6.0 here, simply because I’ve seen how quickly either of these defenses can implode. However, the formula would suggest that the Under 6.0 is a good play here. I think that Carolina +120 might be better value for your money, since it’s a virtual coin toss game.

Game #6: Washington Capitals 3 – Tampa Bay Lightning 2

Explanation: I was actually very surprised to see that Tampa Bay has the best home GAA in the Southeast Division, and one of the best in the entire Eastern Conference. I never would have looked that up if it wasn’t for how odd I found this projected score to be. I would have expected something more along the lines of 5-2 Washington. Nonetheless, Washington’s 8-1 thrashing of the “Thrashers” over the weekend was perhaps more of an anomaly and not so much the norm. These two teams also played to a 3-0 Washington victory in Tampa earlier this season, so maybe the Lightning can hold the Capitals’ offense in-check.

Best Bet: There actually isn’t much value in taking the Capitals as a 63% favourite (according to the formula) at -170. The best bet here looks to be the Under 6.0. Of course, on any given night, the Capitals can torch almost any team for 4 or 5 goals, but it hasn’t happened much this season against top-rated home defenses.

Game #7: Columbus Blue Jackets 4 – St Louis Blues 4

Explanation: Columbus is actually playing very sound defensively as of late, but they do have a track record of playing high-octane hockey on the road this season. Meanwhile, the Blues have seen their last 7 home games go well over the total, each featuring at least 7 goals. The Blue Jackets are still a questionable team but they have won 3 straight games, while the Blues have lost 7 of their last 8. The formula has the Blue Jackets favoured by a very slim margin; 51% to 49%.

Best Bet: The best bet here is clearly the Over 5.5. The Blues give up nearly an entire goal more per game at home than they do on the road. Columbus also gives up a goal per game more on the road than they do at home. I also think that Columbus at +125 is a good underdog to bet here.

Game #8: San Jose Sharks 2 – Phoenix Coyotes 2

Explanation: The final scores from the head-to-head meetings this season between these two division rivals are already enough to convince most prognosticators to expect a low-scoring game here. All four meetings this season have been tight, and 3 of them have actually been decided in shootouts. There isn’t too much to suggest that a different outcome could be likely.

Best Bet: There actually isn’t much value playing the Under 5.0 here, because a 2-2 score after 60 minutes would mean a push on that bet. There actually isn’t much value betting a side in this game either, as it is very close to a coin-flip. My suggestion would be to actually play the overtime prop, or take Phoenix +0.5 in regulation. Overtime is a very likely scenario here.

Game #9: Nashville Predators 6 – Edmonton Oilers 3

Explanation: I’m not completely sold on this prediction, but Nashville has played some very high-scoring affairs on the back end of back-to-back games. Edmonton has also shown plenty of vulnerability when it comes to defending their end of the rink at home, but 4 days off after 4 straight losses could amount to one very determined effort from them. History does favour this prediction though, as 6-3 was also the final score of Nashville’s last visit to Rexall Place.

Best Bet: I’ve got a funny feeling about this game, but if you go by the math, then take Nashville on the moneyline and the Over 5.5. I’ll take the Over 5.5, with a feeling that this game may not play out as expected, due to the intangible motivational factors going for these two teams.

Final Output: So those are the Computer Picks for day 1 of this experiment. Regrettably, I began writing this article at around midnight, and several hours later, I am here once again wondering if I can find the will to do this again tomorrow night. Stay tuned to find out (and also for the results).