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Sharp NHL Bettors Love First Period Totals

James Murphy
by in NHL on
  • Sharp NHL bettors agree on few things. The betting opportunity that first period totals present is one of them.
  • Most sharp hockey bettors have an ‘Under or pass’ strategy for first period totals.
  • In the 2022-2023 season, blindly betting New York Islanders games ‘Under’ for the first period would have yielded a profit of +25.41 Units.

Hockey season is right around the corner and in preparation we’ll be focusing on NHL betting for the next week. You can expect team previews but our primary objective is to share actionable betting information. In this article, we’ve got one of the most ‘actionable’ betting strategies among sharp NHL players–first period totals.

Sharp sports bettors don’t agree on much and for some reason that applies particularly to hockey bettors. Among the winning NHL betting experts I know, however, there’s unanimity in the appeal of first period totals. It’s a bet that is roughly analogous to No Runs In The First Inning (NRFI) in Major League Baseball. Sharp players love that bet since it’s often counter-intuitive to the way recreational players would approach it. In the long run, going against the public is a successful strategy for any sports bettor.

To understand NHL first period totals it helps to understand the dynamics of how a hockey game unfolds. 1.5 is the standard number for the first period Over/Under goals, usually with a moneyline attached one way or the other. In theory, more goals are scored in the second and third period so you’ll see higher O/U totals for each of those periods. While the second and third period totals often have more correlation with the game total, the 1.5 in the first is the default total more often than not. In a typical hockey game, the first period is often a very cautiously played and tactical affair. A boxing match between a pair of skilled fighters is a good example–the higher the degree of boxing skill the less likely you are to see them come out swinging for the fences in the first round.

One of the big narratives of the last NHL season was the increase in scoring. In 2010-2011, NHL teams combined for an average of 2.79 goals per game. It dropped incrementally until 2015-2016’s 2.71 and has been rising ever since. If you throw out the COVID ‘bubble’ season of 2020-2021 (2.94 goals per game) it has been a steady upward progression from 3.01 (2018-2019), 3.02 (2019-2020), 3.14 (2021-2022) and last season’s 3.18 goals per game. Other offensive metrics have also increased. Last year’s NHL average 21.31 power play percentage was the highest since 1985-1986 (22.10).

So that means you want to look ‘Over’ for first period totals right? Guess again. Recreational players love action and scoring and that means they reflexively trend toward betting the ‘Over’. The increased scoring in the NHL in recent years further validates their preferred position. That’s why looking at the ‘Under’ is a successful strategy in so many different betting markets. I’ve read several articles recently that practically had to beg ‘public’ players to bet the ‘Under’ despite being profitable because it just wasn’t ‘much fun to root for’. That’s precisely the mentality you *don’t* want to have if you’re trying to be a successful sports betting.

In fact, many sharp NHL players have an ‘Under or Pass’ strategy toward first period totals. In our next article, we’ll look at this concept in more detail and look at the numbers from last season. The link to that article is below:


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