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The Handicapper's Almanac for Wednesday, May 10th


With apologies to the late Flannery O'Connor for brutalizing the name of her classic short story ("Everything that Rises Must Converge"), note that the NHL totals which started the playoffs with a strong OVER tendency have gone in a different direction since our last column.  Through the games of Monday, May 8th, playoff totals are now showing a trend to the UNDER with 21 OVER, 27 UNDER and 3 push.  In our last column we reported that the playoffs had gone 16-10-2 OVER through Thursday, April 27 but a drastic correction has occured since with 17 UNDER and 1 push in the 23 games since.

So what happened?  It could be a simple explanation like "regression to the mean" or just teams playing tighter defense and more conservative offense as the games get more important.  Based on the games I've watched, however, I'm going to suggest that NHL officials have backed away from the "zero tolerance" policy mandated by commissioner Gary Bettman prior to the playoffs.  I'd be willing to wager that Bettman's office quietly told their officials that too many penalties were being called and undermining the "playoff intensity".  I watched Carolina/Montreal game 6 last Tuesday and in the closing five minutes of regulation someone could have pulled out a lead pipe and not been whistled for an infraction.  I counted at least a dozen instances late in the third period of this 1-1 game where a penalty could have been called but none were.  As a fan, it makes for a more entertaining game.  As a handicapper, I just want to know what to expect.  At this point, I'm going to reverse course and suggest that its hard to make a case to go OVER in the NHL playoffs. With the refs swallowing their whistles combined with tighter defense look for low scoring games to be the norm as the playoffs progress.


The media is making a bigger deal of the #1 seeded Red Wings being dumped in six games by the #8 seeded Edmonton Oilers, but in reality it was a brutal matchup for the Wings.  Edmonton was an easy team to "misunderestimate", and that was a deadly mistake since they're a scrappy team with excellent team speed.  They've got veteran leadership with defenseman Chris Pronger and hot goaltending from Duane Roloson.  Basically, they just outworked the Wings who if they weren't being kept in games with 11 power play chances earlier in the series could have very easily been swept.  Everyone was talking about the forthcoming "Battle of Alberta" before Calgary lost, but the Oilers match up better with the Sharks anyway.  Furthermore, they won't feel the same pressure that they would against their hated cross province rivals so they'll be a lot looser in this series.  They're in a dogfight with the Sharks, having lost two games by 2-1 scores that easily could have gone the other way.

Back east, its nice to see the usually belligerent Philly fans not blame goalie Robert Esche for the team's early playoff exist and game 6 tank job.  I'd thought that Esche would have been treated like Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams on ice skates, but the Flyer faithful actually gave him some supportive applause after he was pulled in the second after allowing 5 goals on 25 shots.  Esche had some inconsistent moments, but when you're midway through period two and have given up 25 shots its hard to blame the goalie.  The Sabres are similar in a lot of respects to the Oilers out west--good team speed, scrappy checking, decent goaltending and the all around excellence of Chris Drury.  They may not have the all around talent of Ottawa (their 2nd round opponent) but they've got the potential to give the Senators fits.  They're certainly in the driver's seat after taking the first two games on the road.


We'd gone against San Diego's Jake Peavy a couple of times in the early going, but his tenure on our "go against" list may have already come to an end.  Peavy, who's generally been one of our favorite pitchers, got off to a rocky start in 2006.  Heading into Monday's game against San Francisco he had a 5.17 ERA and the Padres had lost 4 of his 5 starts, costing bettors 5.65 units.  Despite these struggles, Pods manager Bruce Bochy wasn't concerned, suggesting that his problems were tactical (eg: pitch placement) and not physical or mental.  He looked very sharp Monday, allowing 2 ER on 6 hits in an easy 10-4 win. Giants actually got out to a 2-0 lead, before the Padres exploded for 7 runs in the top of the 4th.  While its obviously easier for a pitcher to dominate with this kind of run support, Peavy looks fine.  He's traditionally been the kind of pitcher that gets better as the season progresses, so we're definitely not going to categorically go against him in his next few starts.

Another early season surprise has been the road play of the Colorado Rockies.  They're 11-5 +9.4 units on the road.  Oddly enough, the Rockies have struggled at home where they're just 9-8.  Typically, Colorado is a decent home team that struggles on the road. Keep an eye on Colorado on the road for the next few weeks--if they continue their solid play away from home they may be available at some nice dog prices.


We nailed the Kentucky Derby as Barbaro ran away from the field in the stretch run.  Our boxing analysis was a mixed bag as Oscar De La Hoya prevailed in his fight with Ricardo Mayorga, but didn't go the decision route as we had predicted.
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