NHL Betting: The Week's Biggest Stories
by Trevor Whenham - 12/16/2008
Another Setback for Luongo
A few weeks ago we talked about the potential impact of Roberto Luongo's injury on the Vancouver Canucks. It was important because there arguably isn't a team in the league that relies on a single player more than Vancouver does on Luongo. The goalie was 11-5-2 for the Canucks. Since he has been gone the team has dropped to 4-5-1. It initially looked as if the end of the downturn was near - Luongo returned to practice on Wednesday, and looked and felt like he was about ready to return. That practice session lasted just 20 minutes, though. The groin wasn't feeling right, and Luongo's return has been delayed. Neither the team nor the player is talking about how long it might take, but neither is giving the impression that we will see him back in the nets any time soon. Groin injuries for goalies almost always last longer than people initially think.
There is at least one reason for people not to panic too much about this situation. Vancouver hasn't been good, but they were also on a seven-game road trip that began in the third game without Luongo. The team was 2-4-1 on that trip, but 2-1 at home without Luongo. Six of their next seven are at home, so we'll get a better sense of the true impact of the injury over this stretch.
Backups Stealing Jobs
Goalies are the single most important part of a hockey team. In several cases this year, the goalie that is carrying much of the burden for their team is not the one who was supposed to as the season started. Injuries have been to blame in some cases, but in others the backup has just plain been better.
Craig Anderson in Florida is the most striking example. Tomas Vokoun was brought in from Nashville last year to start for the team, and he didn't come cheap - $5.5 million a year. That's an expensive bench warmer. Vokoun started 69 games last year, and was in the net for 15 of the first 20 this year. He has appeared just once in 10 games since then, though. Craig Anderson has taken over the starting gig, and he is 5-2-2 in the role. Given that the team is just 14-13-3 that's a solid accomplishment. Even more impressive, four of the five wins have been on the road, and the Panthers have been significant underdogs in each win. Given the experience and cost of Vokoun, Anderson will be on a short leash if he starts to falter. Until then, though, he has been a good friend to bettors.
Alex Auld is more secure in his newly acquired starting job in Ottawa. Martin Gerber was the No. 1 coming into the season. After starting five of the first six games, though, he has started just three of the last 22. It's no surprise - Gerber is just 3-6, and has lost four times as the favorite. Auld, on the other hand, is 9-74. His goals against average is just 2.21, so Auld would be doing even better if Ottawa wasn't so offensively inept - only Tampa Bay scores fewer goals per game. Auld is just seven games away from playing his most games in a season in his career except for the one year he had as a starter in Vancouver.
The Calgary Flames lost in a shootout to Florida on Friday night. That wouldn't be particularly significant, except that it was the first shootout for the Flames, and they were the last team to have one this season. Besides Calgary, only Phoenix is winless in the shootout, and they have had two tries. Detroit, Minnesota, San Jose and Atlanta have yet to lose. By far the king of the gimmick finish is the Rangers. New York has had nine shootouts, and have won eight of them. Last year's runaway shootout champs were the Oilers, with 15 wins in 19 tries. This year they have had just three shootouts, winning two. It's fitting that Calgary has the fewest shootouts this year - no team has had fewer since the shootout was reinstated. The Flames and Senators are tied with the fewest shootout wins all-time with eight.
Purists may not be the biggest fans of the shootout, but sports bettors should pay attention. Shootouts occur in 14.22 percent of all games this year - the highest rate of any of the four shootout seasons.
There were a couple of odd streaks that came to an end this week:
Petr Sykora - Pittsburgh's Sykora had a hat trick on Thursday, as his Penguins rolled over the Islanders 9-2. It's not particularly noteworthy for a guy with 285 career goals to get three in one game. Or at least you wouldn't think it would be. Sykora had scored two goals in a game on 38 different occasions, but strangely this was his first hat trick in his 13-year career.
Toronto Maple Leafs - The Leafs had the night off on Saturday night. No big deal - so did five other teams. Saturday night hockey is one of Canada's defining traditions, though, and the Leafs are Canada's most popular team. This Saturday night was the first time since March 16, 1996 since a regular season Saturday night has passed without the Leafs in action. Strangely, the same thing will happen twice more in just over a month - on Dec. 27 and Jan. 17.