The entirety of the 2015-16 NHL season didn’t include a single game with a total of more than 5.5. The 2014-15 season had only seven games with a total of 6 or more, the last of those coming on Dec. 29, 2014. It’s all part of a downward trajectory in NHL totals over the past dozen years.
Yet in just the past week, there were three games with totals of 6.5 – on three consecutive nights, no less. And continuing a trend in these contests, the over hit in all three: Winnipeg beat visiting Dallas 5-2 on Tuesday night, host Columbus topped Toronto 5-2 on Wednesday, and Pittsburgh notched a 4-3 overtime home victory Thursday against Winnipeg.
There have been 11 games this season with a total of 6.5, and the over has gone 8-3 in those games.
“Totals are definitely higher this season,” said Greg Sindall, senior oddsmaker for online site SportsInteraction, alluding to an additional 11 games with totals of 6, though the over trend isn’t as strong there. “I don’t know if it’s a short-term anomaly, as it’s been like this all year. Our bettors are certainly betting the over a lot, although the over is always the more popular play in most sports.”
Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill US, certainly agrees with that assessment. Bogdanovich doesn’t pay too much attention to hockey outside of the playoffs, but said that when it comes to totals, the NHL is a lot like its more popular peers.
“The higher the total, the more they’re gonna bet the over,” he said. “All the parlays are on the over – 95 percent. That’s just the way it is. In the NBA, baseball, whatever, we always shade to the over, and we’re usually rooting for the under.”
This season’s scoring statistics bear out the need to pump up the total a little more often. The average number of goals per game is 5.56, a marked increase from the 5.42 of the 2015-16 season and the first time since the 2010-11 season (5.59) that the average has been at 5.5 or above.
Sindall said scoring was up right from the get-go this season, so his shop began raising totals about a month into play, particularly in games involving Pittsburgh, Washington, Columbus, Minnesota and the New York Rangers. The defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins lead the league, with their games averaging 6.35 total goals. The first-place Capitals have seen their games just above the league average at 5.58, with the Blue Jackets (5.67), Wild (5.66) and the Rangers (6.05) all well above the league average.
Four teams – Pittsburgh, Toronto, the Rangers and Winnipeg – have cumulative goals per game above 6.0 this year; Dallas was the only team to eclipse that mark in 2014-15 and 2015-16. But Sindall also pointed to certain players impacting betting totals, particularly some of the rising young stars across the league.
“Auston Matthews is definitely on there,” he said of the Toronto rookie, tied for sixth in the league with 27 goals. Cooley also cited Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (20 goals), Toronto’s William Nylander (16), Buffalo’s Jack Eichel (13), Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov (12) and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (11).
Matthews and Nylander’s Maple Leafs best demonstrate the goal upswing, averaging 6.14 cumulative goals per game, second only to Pittsburgh.
“I think the biggest reason for the higher totals is that there are a lot of these young players coming into the league who are highly skilled offensive players, and they are extremely fast,” Sindall said. “These guys are making difficult plays at full speed, and it is very difficult for defenses and for goalies.
“There have been some injuries to goalies, and I think penalties are up a bit, so those could also contribute. But I would say the biggest factors are the speed and skill level of these players, and coaches are planning their games around these guys. Teams seem to be playing more of an attacking game because they have such great offensive players.”
The higher totals – and the fact that games posted at 6.5 are seeing the over cash at a high rate – is a welcomed sight for fans of more action and more scoring. Of the 1,230 games during the 2005-06 NHL season, 1,064 had a betting total of six goals or more. The precipitous drop that followed, with the aforementioned seven such games in 2014-15, represented a decrease of more than 99 percent – and there were zero games with totals above 5.5 last season.
Who knew that when Tampa Bay edged visiting Toronto 3-2 in that Dec. 29, 2014 contest, there wouldn’t be another 6 on the board until this past Oct. 22, when Dallas faced Columbus? Or that the Carolina-Washington game on Nov. 28, 2010 – yes, 2010 – would be the last total of 6.5 until the Dec. 17, 2016 clash between Pittsburgh and Toronto?
Now, there have been eight games in just the past month with a total of 6.5 – including three on the same day, Jan. 31 – and the over went 7-1 in those matchups.
“I don’t know how long it will last, but the longer the better,” Sindall said. “Games are so much better when you let these players go out there and do their thing, as opposed to sitting back in some tight defensive system, trying to win every game 2-1.”
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.