NHL Handicapping: Detroit One of Strongest Home Bets in Sports
by Trevor Whenham - 2/22/2012
On Nov. 3 the Detroit Red Wings lost 4-1 at home to the Calgary Flames. It was a pretty ugly performance for the hosts. It was also the last time Detroit lost at home. Since then they have won 23 straight home contests. The previous NHL record of 20 home wins in a row was set in 1930 and tied in 1976, so what they are in the midst of is obviously impressive.
For bettors, what’s more interesting than the records they are breaking is how they are doing it, and whether they can keep doing it. Let’s take a look:
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When a team has won 23 straight games you can’t dwell on who they have played since they have obviously played a wide range of teams.
A few things stand out when you do look at the schedule and results to date, though. For one, their next home game is against Vancouver — the team that sits second overall in the league behind the Red Wings. Vancouver also has the most road wins in the league. That will be a very challenging game and the biggest test yet for this streak.
More concerning than that, though, is the imbalance in the team’s record. Their home record is an incredible 26-2-1, but they are just 15-15-1 on the road. There are eight teams in the league with more road wins than Detroit.
I get very uneasy when a team performs so differently depending on the setting. Detroit is a better overall team than their road record suggests by a wide margin, but they certainly aren’t as good overall as their home record suggests.
Given their success it’s no surprise that the Red Wings have been very kind to bettors — the most profitable team in the league at this point. If they were to falter even slightly, though, then they would be very rough on bettors.
They have been favored in every game this calendar year except for two road games. In all home games they have been heavy favorites — no lower than -132, and often much higher than that. Those kinds of NHL odds are fine when a team is winning, but they can hurt a bettor in a hurry if the team stumbles even slightly.
A home record of 26-2-1 hardly seems sustainable, so a downward adjustment — a costly one for bettors — is certainly a possibility.
You can’t win in the NHL without strong goaltending. On that front Detroit has been lucky this year. Jimmy Howard is the workhorse of the team and has played in three-quarters of the team’s game. When he broke a finger on Feb. 2 it could have been a disaster for the team. Backup Ty Conklin stepped in the next game — a road loss in Edmonton — and was terrible. Desperate, the team gave third stringer Joey MacDonald a try. He has been nothing short of brilliant — so good, in fact, that they rested Howard on Sunday night even though he was ready to return.
Datsyuk is the offensive leader of this team. He’s on a point-per-game pace this year, and has 12 more points than anyone else on the team.
The team does a good job of spreading out the offense, but Datsyuk is the instigator offensively more often than anyone else. He’s also the most clutch player on the team — as he showed when he scored with five seconds left last Friday against Nashville to give the team their 22nd straight home win.
Given that, it’s obviously anything but good news that Datsyuk is out of the lineup. He had arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday and is expected to miss at least two weeks. His absence will be a big test for this squad.
The one thing that can allow you to be a bit more optimistic is that Datsyuk managed to play just 56 games last year, so the team has recent experience playing without him.
Detroit has never been a particularly young team. Right now, though, they are just plain old.
Of the 24 players on their current active roster, 12 are at least 31 years old. Four are over 35, including the oldest man of all — 41-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom.
Age has often been a concern, but it has to be a particular concern this year. Older players are more fragile players, so stamina has to be an issue for bettors.
The biggest reason to be optimistic about this team is their incredible discipline. The best quick indicator of how disciplined a team is would be plus/minus. A team that fares well in plus/minus is one that is committed to playing two-way, team-oriented hockey, and those are the teams that win.
On that front the Red Wings are truly incredible.
Three of the Top 5 plus/minus players in the league play in Detroit. Eight of the top 40 — fully 20 percent — are Red Wings. That’s incredible.
There are a lot of reasons that contribute to this — maturity, the coaching of Mike Babcock, the chemistry that results from the core of this team having been together for years (15 of the 24 players have been with the squad since at least 2006, three joined the team in the 1990’s, and Lidstrom has been a Wing since 1989), and so on. It all adds up to a team that is easier to trust than almost any other in the league.
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