NHL Betting Odds, Picks & Predictions (Tuesday, Aug. 11): Blue Jackets vs. Lightning Game 1 Preview

Credit:

Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Gustav Nyquist, Joonas Korpisalo

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Odds

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Blue Jackets Odds +143 [BET NOW]
Lightning Odds -165 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 5.5 (+117/-143) [BET NOW]
Time 3 p.m. ET
TV NBCSN

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The Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning have been here before. The Blue Jackets famously ended Tampa’s record-setting 2018-19 season with a franchise-changing sweep last April, casting further doubt onto whether or not this Lightning core can win the Stanley Cup.

That question is asinine. Of course the Lightning can win the Stanley Cup. They are, perhaps, the best top-to-bottom team in the NHL. Will they win the Cup is a different question entirely, though, as that quandary comes down to getting lucky.

The Lightning are one of the Cup favorites at +800, meaning they have an 11.1% chance of winning according to implied probability. A better way to look at that is that Tampa doesn’t win 88.9% of the time. It’s very hard to win the Stanley Cup, even for the elite teams.

A lot has changed in Columbus since it dumped the Bolts last April, but a lot has stayed the same — or even gotten better — too.

Gone are Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Sergei Bobrovsky, but still there is the same dogged defense-first identity that just frustrated the heavily favored Toronto Maple Leafs in a best-of-5 series victory.

The Jackets are used to the odds being stacked against them and the Lightning are used to failing to live up to expectations. This should be a lot of fun.

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets are a known commodity at this point. A defense-first team that excels at keeping teams to the outside, the Jackets were able to survive their best-of-5 against the Leafs thanks to fabulous goaltending and poor finishing from Toronto.

But that’s kind of what the Jackets do. They bend but don’t break better than any team in the NHL. They don’t have the talent to play a loose, fun-filled game of hockey against teams like the Leafs or Lightning because they would lose those games all the time. Instead, they invite these more talented teams into a slow dance and that levels the playing field.

Over the course of the regular season, the Blue Jackets posted some sparkling defensive numbers which made up for some pedestrian offensive marks:

5-on-5 Stat Result Rank
Goals For Per 60 Minutes 2.14 28th
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes 2.09 5th
Expected Goals For Per 60 Minutes 2.22 28th
Expected Goals Against Per 60 Minutes 2.08 3rd
Shot Attempts For Per 60 Minutes 53.6 24th
Shot Attempts Allowed Per 60 Minutes 56.1 18th
High-Danger Chances For Per 60 Minutes 9.06 29th
High-Danger Chances Against Per 60 Minutes 8.82 2nd

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.


You’ll notice I didn’t include any stats from the Jackets’ best-of-5 against the Leafs. Those numbers won’t change how I view the Jackets as a whole and how I’ll bet them, so they’re more noise than anything.

The main takeaway from that series is that the Leafs were the better 5-on-5 team and generated more scoring chances, but the Jackets won thanks in large part to fantastic goaltending from Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins.

I’d say Merzlikins is the more reliable goaltender at this point but Korpisalo was so damn good when Elvis was hurt for Game 5 that who knows. Whoever is in goal will need to stand on their head if Columbus is to win, but it’s hard to imagine that Korpisalo (or Merzlikins if he’s healthy) will deliver the goods in the same fashion he did against the Leafs. That was some career-best goalkeeping from Korpisalo.

Tampa Bay Lightning 

On paper, the Lightning are the NHL’s best team when they’re at full strength. They tick all the boxes. Game-breaking talent? They got it in spades. Enough depth to field a couple of good NHL teams? You betcha. Coaching, reliable goaltending, defense, offense and special teams? Yes, they’ve got all of that, too.

It’s why Tampa is such a big favorite even though it could be missing two of its best players for Game 1 and beyond. Victor Hedman is listed as questionable for Tuesday and Steven Stamkos is “out indefinitely” so it’s a good bet that Jon Cooper will need to call on a couple of reinforcements for at least the curtain-raiser.

For most teams that would be a minor catastrophe, but for the Lightning it’s no big deal. Tampa is so deep that it can withstand these types of blows. Because of their depth, you can make a sound argument that this version of the Lightning are better than the one that set the regular-season points record in 2018-19.

They were a force at 5-on-5 all season long.

5-on-5 Stat Result Rank
Goals For Per 60 Minutes 2.96 T1
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes 2.2 6th
Expected Goals For Per 60 Minutes 2.49 7th
Expected Goals Against Per 60 Minutes 2.09 4th
Shot Attempts For Per 60 Minutes 58.2 9th
Shot Attempts Allowed Per 60 Minutes 50.6 3rd
High-Danger Chances For Per 60 Minutes 11.06 11th
High-Danger Chances Against Per 60 Minutes 9.31 4th

There’s very few holes you can punch in this team but this is hockey, and that means you need to expect, or at least not discount, the unexpected.

Betting Analysis

The first thing to do for this series is to throw out past results. A lot of column inches and intermission-report time will be spent on the Jackets’ 2019 sweep. It was magical, sure, but it has basically nothing to do with the 2020 Round 1 series between these teams.

If you’re factoring Tampa’s motivation to get revenge on Columbus into how you’re betting this series I’d advise you to put the pencil down, take a lap around the block and throw those thoughts into the street to be run over by a car and never be heard from again.

The Blue Jackets were a live dog in their series against the Maple Leafs because Toronto’s defense and lack of depth allowed Columbus to hang around. The Lightning don’t have either of those problems, so this series should not be viewed through the same lens as the Jackets’ tussle with the Buds.

The series odds at DraftKings stand at Tampa Bay -225 and Columbus +185, which implies the Bolts win this series 66.4% of the time. I can’t find anything wrong with that price. If Columbus somehow crawled to +200, then I’d be interested.

Even though Tampa would easily win out over Columbus in the long-term, the Jackets are so adept at turning games into rock fights that I would lean towards them if this price climbs before Game 1.

The best odds I could find on Columbus at the moment are at bet365 where the line sits at -170/+150. Those odds give Columbus a 38.9% chance of winning Game 1. I think you could rely on the Jackets’ defense to make the game closer than the odds, but that number doesn’t excite me all that much.

If you’re going to be watching the game and just want action on it, I wouldn’t judge you for backing Columbus at the price, but I’m going to wait it out and hope the Tampa money shows up before puck drop.

I’ll back Columbus at +155 or better.

[Bet now at DraftKings. CO, NJ, PA, IN and WV only.]

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