NHL Odds & Pick for Panthers vs. Blue Jackets: Wait To Back Columbus at This Number (Thursday, March 11)

NHL Odds & Pick for Panthers vs. Blue Jackets: Wait To Back Columbus at This Number (Thursday, March 11) article feature image

Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Elvis Merzlikins.

  • The Panthers and Blue Jackets are two evenly matched teams meeting on Thursday.
  • Matt Russell previews the matchup and gives his pick below.

Panthers vs. Blue Jackets Odds

Panthers Odds-136
Blue Jackets Odds+117
Time7 p.m. ET
Odds as of Wednesday night and via DraftKings.

In the hockey analytics world, even with the focus on the numbers, there still can be a tendency to paint a team with the same brush late in the season as you color them early on. We have to stay on our toes in regards to how teams evolve over the course of the season, and how they’re affected by variables beyond their control. In many cases, these variables may not create a black and white result, but have a more gradual effect. 

For the Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets, both teams have their own case to be made that their best hockey is ahead of them, but for very different reasons.

Florida Panthers

The Panthers were getting all the breaks early on the season. In the first 13 games of their season, neither them or their opponent accumulated double-digit High-Danger Chances (HDC) at even-strength. Low-chance games usually means lower scoring and thus higher variance. It’s harder to win the majority of games when goals are harder to come by.

The Panthers were winning those games, starting the season with nine wins in those 13 games. In the 14th game, one team finally racked up the HDC. It was the Carolina Hurricanes, getting 13 of them, while the Panthers manufactured just three. Florida won anyway.

Since then, the Panthers have continued to win, going 8-4, but now they’ve started to play better, which is more than a little concerning for the rest of the Central Division.

The Panthers have created 92 HDC in the last 12 games and allowed their opponents to just 70. Even scarier for Florida’s opponents, it has actually gotten unlucky when it comes to converting those chances, scoring just four times on its last 82 HDC. 

From a goaltending perspective, early concerns about who the Panthers' best option in net was have been quelled with better play from the guy making the big bucks.

The Panthers invested in Sergei Bobrovsky two summers ago, and it hasn’t paid dividends yet. He started this season among the statistically worst in the league, and has worked his way back near even in the Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) metric while his backup, Chris Driedger, is still in the top-10 of GSAA. 

Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.

Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.

xG numbers cited from Evolving Hockey.

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Columbus Blue Jackets

Goaltending is at the forefront of what’s going on with the Columbus Blue Jackets, as they’re finally getting their tandem back together.

Elvis Merzlikins has missed two portions of the season so far, which is unfortunate since he’s been the much better goaltender between himself and Joonas Korpisalo. No one has started more games this season than Korpisalo, and that’s probably the issue. He's a tired goaltender who’s used to splitting time and as a result sits at 56th in the NHL in GSAA. 

With Merzlikins at +2.50 GSAA through nine games, he’s on pace for a top-10 standing if he played more than half of his teams’ games.

When the Blue Jackets met the Panthers on Tuesday, we would have been on Columbus as home underdogs if Merzlikins got the start, but the Jackets opted to give him another couple days before seeing game action. Korpisalo gave up three goals on 33 shots, including two on just four power-play chances. We’re not blaming Korpisalo, though, nor are we blaming the offense either, since it tested Bobrovsky 42 times.

Given the even-strength expected goal share was 50/50, sometimes you just lose a game, which is what happened on Tuesday night. 

Betting Analysis & Pick

On "THE WINDOW: Sports Betting Podcast," my “Let’s Do That Hockey” model’s opinion says these teams, playing in Columbus, is a true coin flip, which was supported by the 50/50 expected goal share split.

Even with their better play from an even-strength metric standpoint, the Panthers are still just 2% above-average. While the Blue Jackets are rated as 7% below-average 5-on-5, that’s still not enough to warrant anything higher than an even-money price on them to win. 

The Blue Jackets got as high as +120 on Tuesday and only Korpisalo getting the start prevented me from making that a bet. I expect Merzlikins to get his chance, and the last time he returned from injury, he had a shutout in his first start.

I think a fresher goaltender for the Blue Jackets and maintaining the same pressure offensively should make Columbus a good value play in the rematch, should the Blue Jackets price hit that same threshold. 

Pick: Blue Jackets +120 or better

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