NHL Odds, Picks & Predictions (Saturday, August 15): Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets Game 3
Elsa, Getty Images. Pictured Alex Wennberg, Oliver Bjorkstrand
- The Columbus Blue Jackets (+150 odds) and Tampa Bay Lightning (-177 odds) meet in Game 3 of their first-round series Saturday.
- Sam Hitchcock explains why there might be value in betting the Blue Jackets as underdogs in tonight's contest.
- Check out his game preview, including his favorite bet for the matchup.
Blue Jackets vs. Lightning Odds: Game 3
|Blue Jackets Odds||+150 [BET NOW]|
|Lightning Odds||-177 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||5.5 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET|
Part of the stated purpose of management consulting is to root out inefficiencies. The Columbus Blue Jackets have a similar, dispassionate way of exposing a team’s blemishes.
After the Tampa Bay Lightning were swept in demoralizing fashion by the Blue Jackets in last year’s playoffs, the Bolts underwent earnest introspection in an effort to rejigger their identity to meet the needs of the postseason milieu.
But as they face their old nemesis again in 2020, Columbus is exposing problems Tampa Bay still needs to rectify.
For this reason, bettors should jump at the chance of getting Columbus at +140 on DraftKings.
Tampa Bay Lightning
More solvable than 99 problems, but three issues should disturb coach Jon Cooper and his staff.
First, there is the matchup problem. Examining the numbers from the series so far, the Lightning have a dramatic edge in expected goals at 66.01% and Columbus at 33.99%.
At 5-on-5, they have 31 more shots. Even in high-danger chances they are nearly doubling the Blue Jackets. But a closer reading is needed.
With Steven Stamkos still absent, Cooper is motivated to play Anthony Cirelli against the Blue Jackets’ top scoring line, with mixed results.
In both games, the Cirelli line has finished on the positive side of the ledger in terms of expected goals, but it has been held goalless, and the four high-danger chances it has created merely match what the Yanni Gourde line yielded in Game 2.
The Gourde line is slaughtering the Blue Jackets in terms of chances, but for Columbus this probably seems like a good trade-off. By muffling the Cirelli line, Columbus is silencing the Lightning’s third-, sixth- and seventh-leading goal scorers from the regular season.
This puts tremendous pressure on the Brayden Point line to score against Columbus’s checking line, and for the Gourde line to produce. To be fair, the Gourde line scored in Game 1 and both Gourde and Blake Coleman have showcased the capacity for 20 goals.
But this season, Gourde and Coleman have been cursed by low-scoring droughts. Gourde had a 35-game scoreless spell and Coleman has played 14 games with Tampa Bay and hasn’t scored yet. (Barclay Goodrow has never cracked double-digit goals.)
The Lightning’s scoring is heavily concentrated, which is only exacerbated by the Stamkos injury. To free up Cirelli’s cohort, Cooper may want to consider using the Gourde line to nullify Columbus’s Pierre-Luc Dubois line.
The second issue is that penalties have long been a Lightning vice, and it has hurt them in this series. Two of the five goals scored by the Blue Jackets have been on the power play as the Lightning, per usual, get roped into a chess match between opposing coaches.
In Game 1, Tampa Bay forward Alex Killorn had a lazy penalty where he tripped Riley Nash, resulting in a goal from Dubois. In Game 2, Erik Cernak clearly took down Oliver Bjorkstrand and the victim of the infraction got his revenge on the man advantage.
For a team that vowed to be more disciplined, the Lightning averaged four penalties per 60 minutes this season, which once again was top three in the NHL.
Third, Joonas Korpisalo is outplaying Andrei Vasilevskiy. Korpisalo has the best Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) in the playoffs, and after the Kucherov bank-shot in Game 2, Korpisalo strongly rebounded.
Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) is an advanced statistic that measures a goaltender’s performance against the quality of scoring chances he faced. It is a better catch-all metric compared to save percentage because every SV% counts every saved shot and goal the same, while GSAx weights shots by the quality of the scoring chance. GSAx numbers cited from Evolving Hockey.
Aside from avoiding needless penalties and limiting odd-man rushes, I’m not sure what more Tampa Bay can do in terms of raising Vasilevskiy’s play. They need their net-minder’s output to be commensurate to his contract.
The Alexander Wennberg goal was weak, and Vasilevskiy can ill afford those types of foibles in Game 3.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Outshooting the Lightning is a worthy objective, but aside from challenging the Bolts’ rickety defensive group in open ice, like Wennberg did, or forcing them to defend in the slot, like Ryan Murray did, I think Columbus needs to focus on risk management. The Lightning are utilizing Mikhail Sergachev and Victor Hedman as a pairing, especially in offensive-zone faceoffs.
In the two games Hedman played last postseason, the duo only saw one minute together despite the fact that they are Tampa Bay’s two best offensive defensemen and the team was struggling to score.
In the two games they have played together in the 2020 playoffs against Columbus, the pairing has seen 7:42 together at 5-on-5 and has a 97.89 expected goals percentage. Cooper has advantageously deployed them with 13 of the 14 draws coming in the offensive zone. More importantly, the team has collected eight shots while only allowing one when they are on the ice.
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.
The Blue Jackets do a nice job of layering and they check sticks as well as any team in the league around the slot – Seth Jones’s stick-check on Goodrow is worth showing to every young hockey player across America – but they need to be careful if the Lightning start using scissor plays or Cooper starts to use Hedman and Sergachev together more.
Another area to monitor is the Lightning harnessing their passing and speed during the period of the long change. The Blue Jackets’ neutral-zone structure and sticky coverage in their own zone make it extremely difficult for the Lightning to penetrate the middle of the ice, but during the second period in Game 2, Tampa Bay was able to reduce some of the pressure exerted by the Blue Jackets’ forwards by catching them during their line change.
For coach John Tortorella, Games 3 and 4 present a unique opportunity as he will now be afforded the last change. Who does Tortorella match the Boone Jenner line against since every time Jenner and Nick Folingo have touched the ice they seem to be seeing a shot attempt taken against them? Will Tortorella continue to use the Nash line against Point’s trio?
The Lightning and Blue Jackets have played 11 periods in two games and Columbus has won the expected goals battle during only one of them. Combine that with the incredible goaltending the Blue Jackets have received, and the underdogs seem like a team hanging by a thread because Korpisalo’s play is unsustainable. But like running a business, accountability and management matter in hockey. The Blue Jackets are more disciplined.
The Lightning’s defensive coverage can be slow to respond in their own end (like Gourde on the Murray goal). Tortorella ran circles around Cooper in last year’s series and bettors should be wary about that trend emerging this year. With Stamkos injured, the Lightning will continue to struggle to score, which is why bettors would be wise to grab the Blue Jackets at +140 on DraftKings.
Even if the Lightning announce Stamkos will play, -162 is too rich for my taste, especially when one considers how quickly the captain will need to acclimate to the high-intensity playoff environment.