Scoring in the NHL increased for the first few years following the 2004 strike, as the league put in some new rules to help pump up the scores. However, many teams have started to revert back to the trapping style that dominated the pre-strike era, and now goals per game has steadily dropped the last three seasons while the success of the ‘under’ increased, even finishing in the black this season.

After the NHL strike wiped out the 2004-05 season, new rules were put in place in an attempt to make NHL games higher scoring and more exciting and the keep the fans, particularly in the United States, interested.

Well, that strategy did increase scoring for a while, but slowly but surely, many teams are returning to the defensive, trapping style that dominated the league before the strike. As a result, the average goals per game has decreased steadily over the past three regular seasons, from 5.83 total goals per game vs. the hockey odds in 2008-09, to 5.68 goals per game in 2009-10 to 5.59 goals per game in the just completed 2010-2011 season.

As you might expect, this has made betting the ‘under’ more successful, as displayed in the chart below. Note that these results are based on the closing betting odds from Pinnacle Sports over the past three seasons.

Season Over Under Push Under%  Over Units 
 Under Units
2008-09   594   593    40   50.0%     -6.41    -51.91
2009-10   567   611    50   51.9%    -44.48    -13.52
2010-11   547   625    58   53.3%    -82.11    +25.56

The ‘under’ percentage has increased in a straight line over the past three years to the point where at 53.3 percent this season, bettors would have actually made a profit of +25.56 units by blindly betting the ‘under’ on every single NHL regular season game!

Michal NeuvirthIt has even gotten the point where even the Washington Capitals, always known as a team with great firepower in the past, stressed defense this season and thus were the most profitable ‘under’ team in the  NHL with an unbelievable 58-23-1, 71.6 percent ‘under’ mark!

The two Stanley Cup Finalists also played the game, with the ‘under’ going 42-30-10, 58.3 percent in all Boston Bruins games, eighth best in the league, and the Vancouver Canucks had the 10th best ‘under’ percentage at 44-35-3, 55.7 percent.

Looking at the last three seasons combined though, no team comes close to the ‘under’ success of the New Jersey Devils, who own a sparkling 135-89-22, 60.3 percent ‘under’ mark over this three year span. New Jersey was not far behind the Capitals in the ‘under’ department this season either, finishing second at 45-24-13, 65.2 percent.

So will the huge success of the ‘under’ this year lead to lower posted totals next season? After all, back before the strike year, there were a lot of posted totals of 5 and even quite a few totals of 4½ out there. In the last few years though, about 75 percent of all NHL games have had a posted total of 5½ with the sportsbooks playing with the vigorish on that new key number to try and get some balanced action.

The books did start to put up more 5s this season, but based on the success of the ‘under’ in NHL betting in 2010-11, they were too slow to adjust in this “Year of the ‘under’”.

There were 1230 NHL regular season games this season, and of those, 955 games (77.6 percent) had a posted total of 5½, with the ‘under’ going 505-450, 52.9 percent in those contests. Now the books did hang up a total of 5 in 217 games (17.6 percent), and the ‘under’ was 85-79-53, 51.8 percent in those matchups, but that was good enough for an ‘under’ profit of +16.87 units as it was usually offered at plus odds when the total was set at an even 5.

Additionally, there were 54 games (4.4 percent) this year with a total of 6, with the ‘under’ going a nice 31-18-5, 63.3 percent in those contests, and there were even four games (0.3 percent) with a total of 6½, and the ‘under’ was a perfect 4-0 in those encounters. The last game with a posted total of 6½ was way back on November 28, 2010 though in a game between the Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes, so at least the books caught on quickly in regards to that high total.

Now, one stereotype that did hold true in this 2010-11 season of the ‘under’ is that Eastern Conference games were lower scoring than Western Conference games.  Here is a more detailed look at NHL conference total profiles for the 2010-2011 Season.

Eastern Conference games: These games were the best games to cash in on the under’ craze this season, as it went 248-202-30, 55.1 percent while producing a blind profit of +26.41 units. Eastern Conference games averaged a combined 5.51 goals per game, so if you were fortunate enough to catch a posted total of 6 or 6½ when two East teams battled, the ‘under’ went 25-13-2, 65.8 percent. Of course it helped that the East had four teams that finished with an ‘under’ percentage of over 60 percent in the Capitals, Devils, Montreal Canadiens (46-26-10, 63.9 percent) and Pittsburgh Penguins (48-31-3, 60.8 percent), and also seven of the top nine teams in the NHL in ‘under’ percentage hail from the East. In fact, only four teams in the Eastern Conference played to more ‘overs’ than ‘unders’ this year, and one of those, the Atlanta Thrashers, moved to Winnipeg and will probably switch conferences next season.

Western Conference games: There is something about the West that no matter the sport, teams from that conference play a more wide-open style of play than teams from the East.  Well, hockey is no exception as Western Conference games averaged a combined 5.71 goals this season, with the ‘under’ going only 231-228-21, 50.3 percent and losing -18.51 units. Before you ask, no it was not profitable to bet the ‘over’ in Western Conference games, as even it lost -3.51 units. We can still use this knowledge to our advantage though, as if we would have backed out Western Conference games and only played Eastern Conference and interconference games the season, the ‘under’ went 394-319-37, 55.3 percent for +44.07 units.

Interconference games with East home: Generally speaking, when two teams with contrasting styles face each other, the home team usually does a better job of controlling the tempo. Well, this held true in the NHL in 2010-11, as interconference games where the Eastern Conference team was home produced an average of 5.53 goals per game, which is right in line with the Eastern Conference average of 5.51. The ‘under’ went 74-56-5 for a nice 56.9 percent when the East hosted the West, with the ‘under’ generating a profit of +13.18 units. On a per game basis, that is actually a better ROI than Eastern Conference games, which is an indication that Western teams are more easily flustered by the defensive play in the East, as their offenses are apparently incapable of making the necessary adjustments to score more goals, or at least to speed up the pace.

Interconference games with West home: Perhaps the most surprising discovery when we analyzed the 2010-11 season is that when it was the West hosting interconference games, the average total goals per game was actually the lowest yet, at only 5.48 goals per contest! That said, the ‘under’ record of 72-61-2, 54.1 percent was not as good as when the East team was home for interconference games, although the West hosted games still produced an ‘under’ profit of +4.49 units.