Blue Jackets vs. Blackhawks Odds, Picks & Predictions: Should the Odds Be This Tight? (Friday, Jan. 29)
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Kevin Lankinen
- The Chicago Blackhawks host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night in the only NHL game of the night.
- The Blackhawks are on a five-game point streak led mostly by some surprisingly hot goaltending.
- Can they keep it going? Michael Leboff breaks down the game, including a recommended bet.
Blue Jackets vs. Blackhawks Odds
|Blue Jackets Odds||-127|
|Time||8 p.m. ET|
After a 13-game slate on Thursday night, the NHL has plans for a quiet Friday with just one contest on the docket.
DraftKings opened this game as a -108/-108 pick’em, but it’s pretty clear that the market thinks these two teams are a bit farther apart than that as the Blue Jackets quickly took money and were bet up to -127 by the time the late games were starting on Thursday night.
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.
Who Are These Blackhawks?
If you looked at this matchup a couple of weeks ago you would have thought it’s a matchup between two teams that play very different styles of hockey. But there’s something strange happening with the Chicago Blackhawks.
After back-to-back seasons as the worst defensive team in the NHL, it looks like Chicago has potentially found a system that works. The Blackhawks, who allowed a league-high 2.78 expected goals per 60 minutes (xGA/60) in 2019/20 and a league-high 2.77 xGA/60 in 2018/19, are surrendering just 2.11 xGA/60 through their first eight games in 2021.
Another twist is that the Blackhawks have received positive goaltending from Kevin Lankinen. Coming into the season it looked like the Hawks were going to roll with Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia as their netminding tandem but with those two struggling out of the gates, head coach Jeremy Colliton worked Lankinen into the rotation. The 25-year-old Finn has repaid him with a .931 save percentage and a +2.3 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) across four solid starts.
Lankinen looked especially sharp in Chicago’s 2-1 shootout loss to Nashville on Wednesday night. The Predators outshot the Hawks, 42-30, and created 3.53 expected goals. In other words, Lankinen stole a point for Chicago. It was the second night in the row that the Hawks were out-played by the Preds but were able to drag the game to extra-time and extend their point streak to five games (2-0-3).
Columbus Is Still Columbus
The Columbus Blue Jackets have built a pretty clear identity under John Tortorella. The Jackets play a well-structured defensive game, relying on their work ethic and attention to detail to level the playing field against more talented teams. That identity has been put to the test several times over the years as the Jackets have watched Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Pierre Luc-Dubois come and go.
Columbus wants to play low-event hockey and grind out a 2-1 or 3-2 win. The Jackets know they won’t have much success trading chances every night, so they elect to focus on keeping things tidy in their own zone by blocking a ton of shots, limiting odd-man rushes and keeping their opponents out of the slot. Columbus ranked third in the NHL with a 2.08 xGA/60 in 2019/20. They are at that same mark through their first eight games in 2021.
The rub with the Blue Jackets is that their lack of offensive oomph makes them a tough team to lay juice with. They don’t really put teams away and their chance creation metrics actually lag their defensive numbers, meaning they are giving up more scoring chances than they are creating to start the season. The Blue Jackets are 28th in the NHL with a 1.79 xGF/60 so far this campaign. They finished 27th overall in that metric in 2019/20.
Blackhawks vs. Blue Jackets Betting Analysis
Chicago’s all-of-a-sudden stingy defense is worth monitoring, but I was surprised this game opened as a pick’em, and frankly think this price flatters the Blackhawks. Had this game been played last week, Columbus would have opened as the clear favorite, but Chicago’s modest start obviously had an impact on this line.
Hockey is a random sport, so anybody can beat anybody on any given night (except this season, apparently), but the Blue Jackets are clearly a better team than the Blackhawks. It’s worth remembering that the Blackhawks’ season Over/Under was 12 points lower than Columbus’ coming into Opening Night.
Even though the Blue Jackets give me agita when they are favorites, I think this line is still playable and would lay -130 or better on the Jackets.
Pick: Columbus Blue Jackets -130