Knights-Kings: Finding Value Amid the ‘Must-Win’ Narrative

Knights-Kings: Finding Value Amid the ‘Must-Win’ Narrative article feature image

Avoiding narratives is a challenging, but important part of growing as a sports bettor. It’s easy to get caught up and let storylines get in the way of breaking down a game. These situations become more amplified in the postseason as the media presence surrounding the qualified teams turns into a circus.

Tonight, the Kings need to win to avoid a 3-0 hole in their first-round series with the Golden Knights. It’s a ‘must-win’ game. Luckily, Los Angeles has an experienced core of players like Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick who can take over a game. The Kings have been here before while the Knights, quite literally, have never been here before.

That is the off-ice narrative that will be working heading into Game 3 on Sunday night (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

On the ice, the story is much simpler: The Knights have been the better of the two teams in the nearly eight periods they’ve played. Even though both games have each been decided by one goal, including a double-overtime win for the Knights in Game 2, Vegas has clearly tilted the ice and if it wasn’t for a red-hot Jonathan Quick, the box scores could have looked pretty ugly.

In Game 1, though the Kings had two more shots on goal (all situations), the Knights attempted more shots at 5v5 (54-40), created more scoring chances at 5v5 (21-14) and created 2.2 expected goals (xG) compared to LA’s 1.13. It wasn’t an overwhelming performance, but Vegas deserved to get the win.

On the surface, Game 2 was more of the same. Both goalies played wonderfully and goals were at a premium, so much so that we only saw three of them in almost five periods of action. As close as things looked on the ticker, the truth is that Vegas dominated.

In nearly 82 minutes of 5v5 play, the Knights have out-attempted the Kings, 91-60, and they created 42 scoring chances compared to just 18 for Los Angeles. In all situations, the Knights generated 4.44 xGs while the Kings only produced 1.79. It was a terrific performance from Gerard Gallant’s team.

It is important to note that Los Angeles was without Doughty, its best defenseman by miles, for Game 2. Doughty’s presence, along with home-ice advantage — which does swing things in hockey, believe it or not — should close the gap between the Kings and Knights in Games 3 and 4, but does it make them the more likely team to win tonight?

If we look at the odds, Vegas closed as a -150 (60% implied probability) favorite in Game 1, while Los Angeles was a +130 (43.4%) underdog In Game 2, the Knights won as a -160 (61.5%) favorite, while Los Angeles was priced at +140 (41.7%). That means Doughty was worth about 10 cents on the line and swung Vegas’ win-probability by ~1.5%. For Game 3, Los Angeles is currently -145 (59%) with Vegas coming back at +125 (44%). If we take this at face value, the market is suggesting that home-ice advantage and Doughty are giving Los Angeles a ~17% boost in Game 3.

Vegas has been the better side through the first two games and they’re the deeper team in this series. Yet, they’re being underrated here, and I suspect that the “must-win” narrative is playing a role. At the time of writing, the Kings are getting 57% of the tickets against the Knights, who, it bears repeating, are the better team. The betting public has a hard time believing that the Los Angeles Kings will fall behind 3-0 against the expansion Knights and it’s creating a good betting opportunity.

Throughout a broadcast, you’ll hear “who wants it more?” But just because a team has its back against the wall doesn’t mean they want it more. It just means they’re likely the worse of the two teams playing.