NHL Odds, Preview & Expert Prediction: Lightning vs. Penguins (February 26)

NHL Odds, Preview & Expert Prediction: Lightning vs. Penguins (February 26) article feature image

Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Nikita Kucherov

  • The Penguins host the Lightning on Sunday as both teams play the second half of a back-to-back.
  • Pittsburgh dominated Tampa Bay earlier this season, but a lot has transpired over the past few months and this matchup will likely be different.
  • Ryan Dadoun offers up his best bet and analysis below.

Lightning vs. Penguins Odds

Lightning Odds-125
Penguins Odds+104
Time6 p.m. ET
TVNHL Network
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute NHL Odds here.

Pittsburgh cruised to a 6-2 victory against Tampa Bay on Oct. 15, but a lot has changed since then.

The Penguins have gone through struggles and might miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is as strong as ever.

So, is the stage set for the Lightning to get revenge when they face Pittsburgh on Sunday?

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Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay has played in the Stanley Cup Finals in each of the past three years and it wouldn't be shocking if it got all the way there again in 2023. That's not to say the Lightning are the undisputed best team in the East, but they're at least in the conversation.

The Lightning are an all-around powerhouse. They have the fourth-best offense with 3.58 goals per game this season. That's in part because of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos, who each have over 20 goals and 60 points, but it's also thanks to the Lightning's decent depth. They have six players with at least 40 points compared to Pittsburgh's four.

Tampa Bay also has a great goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy, but he started Saturday versus Detroit, so the Lightning probably won't use him Sunday. Instead, it will likely be Brian Elliott's turn. He has a 9-3-2 record, a 2.90 GAA and a .904 save percentage in 14 starts this season. Elliott was also the goaltender when the Lightning suffered that 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh, though in his defense, he faced 44 shots in that contest.

The Lightning's blueliners will aim to make life easier for Elliott this time around, but that's one area where Tampa Bay is mediocre. Before Saturday's action, the Lightning were in a three-way tie for 14th in shots against with 31.1, and they were also in the middle-of-the-pack in expected goals allowed with 188.25, per moneypuck. So, when you remove the skilled goaltending of Vasilevskiy from the equation, Tampa Bay isn't a particularly difficult team to score against.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Lightning aren't the only squad projected to start their backup though. Pittsburgh sent out Tristan Jarry against St. Louis on Saturday, so Casey DeSmith will probably be in net Sunday. DeSmith has a 10-12-4 record, a 3.28 GAA and a .904 save percentage in 28 contests. He hasn't been any better recently either, posting a 3.55 GAA and a .901 save percentage over his past 11 outings.

With DeSmith in net, Pittsburgh will need to rely on its offense, which is adequate, but not at Tampa Bay's level. Sidney Crosby is still one of the best in the business with 25 goals and 69 points over his first 57 games, and Pittsburgh also has Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel, who have each surpassed the 50-point milestone.

As a collective though, the Penguins entered Saturday's contest averaging 3.18 goals per game — 16th in the league offensively. Their problem has been a lack of scoring depth. Kasperi Kapanen didn't mesh well and was put on waivers Friday and claimed by St. Louis on Saturday. Jeff Carter turned 38 on Jan. 1 and was limited to eight goals and 20 points through 54 games after being an important secondary scorer last season with 19 goals and 45 points in 76 contests. Bryan Rust has also declined, going from 58 points in 60 games last season to 34 points through 57 contests in 2022-23.

A lot of the pieces that made Pittsburgh a dangerous team in years past are still there, but between the departures of some supporting cast members and players declining, the Penguins simply aren't the powerhouse they used to be, or that the Lightning still are.

Lightning vs. Penguins Pick

The Lightning are being regarded as slight favorites, which surprises me a bit because I see the gap between these teams as meaningful.

The Penguins and Lightning are both gearing up for the second half of a back-to-back as well as their third contest in four days. Perhaps that's a little more of a disadvantage for the Lightning because they're on the road, and worked Saturday evening while Pittsburgh at least got its contest out of the way in the afternoon. However, Tampa Bay's core is younger and thus should be better able to persevere through this kind of scheduling slog.

Either way, both teams are tired and projected to send out underwhelming backups, but the Lightning's strong forward group is better equipped to take advantage of that.

For that reason, I'm in favor of grabbing Tampa Bay on the moneyline.

Pick: Lightning Moneyline | Play to -135

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