By MARK MAYER
The All-Star Game provides a nice break in hockey and the opportunity to figure out where all the power plays have gone.
"The refs are not calling as many penalties as they did in the beginning of the season," said Scott Ramsey, NHL oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants. "The penalties that were being called early, such as holding up forwards, are not being called now."
Without the expected extra number of man-advantages, the betting lines are looking like they did last season.
"It was thought scoring would be up and that bettors should be paying more attention to power play goals and penalty killing," Ramsey said. "We are finding now that special teams are not as much of a factor. With the relaxed rules, more UNDER (5 goal) games are occurring compared to last year."
Ramsey said that two or three underdogs should pay off on a given night when, say, seven games are on the slate.
"There really hasn’t been a regular pattern to underdogs on the road, but I feel it’s easier to win betting hockey than other sports," Ramsey said. "You can play the money line, bet half-goals or 1Â½ goals if offered. Some places offer a puck line, but the negative is that you are dealing with a 20-cent line instead of the 10 that baseball offers."
Ramsey’s midterm grades are in and he’s particularly biting on San Jose, his preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup.
San Jose: The Sharks are the biggest disappointment to me. I believe they are in danger of not even making the playoffs.
Colorado: The Avalanche are not dead, despite a poor start and firing their coach (Bob Hartley). They have too many leaders.
NY Rangers: The rest of the league is lucky the Rangers don’t know how to spend their money. Former coach Bryan Trottier was clearly in over his head. Bad chemistry.
Anaheim: The Mighty Ducks are better than I thought and made a real good trade to pick up Ozolinsh from Florida for nothing. He’s one of the top 4 or 5 offensive defenseman in the world.
Ottawa: The Senators have been knocking on the door for several years. Could be this season’s Carolina. They have been playoff underachievers. Best team in the East.
I think they will go to the Stanley Cup finals.
Detroit: Some think the Red Wings are in trouble, but they are a veteran team and will be the ones to beat in the playoffs.
Dallas: The Stars are best in the West right now. It’s a matter of how well goalie Marty Turco responds in the playoffs. Until he does it, they are a question mark.
Ramsey rates Anaheim and Minnesota as the surprises in the West, Tampa Bay and Florida as the most improved in the East. The X-factor is Toronto with Gary Roberts due back in the lineup soon and veteran goalie Ed Belfour showing his old form.