NHL Odds, Preview, Prediction: Blue Jackets vs. Lightning (December 15)

NHL Odds, Preview, Prediction: Blue Jackets vs. Lightning (December 15) article feature image

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images. Pictured: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

  • Tampa Bay hosts Columbus in a game that appears to be a big mismatch on paper.
  • The Lightning have already beat the Blue Jackets once this season and will be looking to notch another victory on Thursday night.
  • Ryan Dadoun previews the game and shares his best bet below.

Blue Jackets vs. Lightning Odds

Blue Jackets Odds+240
Lightning Odds-300
Over/Under6.5 (-130/-106)
Time7 p.m. ET
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute NHL Odds here.

Tampa Bay is 18-9-1 and already beat Columbus 5-2 on Oct. 14, so clearly the Blue Jackets, who are 10-16-2, are the underdogs in this one. Do the Lightning have enough of an edge to back on the puck line? Or is there a reason to believe in the underdog Blue Jackets?

Let's take a look at the odds and make a pick.

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Columbus Blue Jackets

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the Blue Jackets isn't a positive — it's that they allow 4.07 goals per game, which gives them the second-worst defense in the league.

To make things even more dreary for Columbus, Joonas Korpisalo is out with a lower-body injury. He has a 4-5-1 record, 3.53 GAA and a .903 save percentage in 12 contests, so it's not like he's having a great season, but the alternative, Elvis Merzlikins, has a 4-8-0 record, 4.68 GAA and a .864 save percentage in 14 games.

To give some context to Merzlikins' struggles, he has the worst GAA and save percentage of any goaltender who has started at least five games. His 2022-23 GAA is also the third worst of the salary cap era (minimum five starts), behind only Jonas Johansson's 4.69 in 2021-22 and Anton Forsberg's 4.69 in 2014-15.

To be fair to Merzlikins, Columbus' expected goals against this season is the sixth worst (65.37), per Moneypuck, so part of the Blue Jackets' woes are a result of poor defense. It's not all on the goaltending.

Is there a silver lining for Columbus? Not really.

Johnny Gaudreau has lived up to expectations with 10 goals and 31 points in 28 contests and Boone Jenner has done well, providing 10 goals and 28 points in 28 games. Additionally, Patrik Laine, who has missed time with an elbow sprain and an ankle injury, is now healthy.

Despite all that, there's just not much to this Columbus offense. Gaudreau and Jenner are the only players with at least 20 points. Conversely, Tampa Bay has six players who have hit or surpassed the 20-point milestone, including three with at least 30 points.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay has reached the Stanley Cup Final in each of the past three years, and the Lightning are looking just as scary this season. They did take a while to get going and posted a 7-6-1 record through Nov. 11, but have since won 11 of their past 14 games.

Tampa Bay has a forward group capable of taking full advantage of Columbus' defensive woes. The Lightning have the fifth-best offense with 3.61 goals per game.

After missing all of the 2020-21 regular season and a big chunk of 2021-22, Nikita Kucherov is finally healthy and leading the charge with 11 goals and 42 points in 28 games. Steven Stamkos is also living up to his abilities with 16 goals and 34 points in 28 contests, while Brayden Point rounds out the top-three with 15 goals and 30 points in 28 games.

Tampa Bay also has the league's fifth-best blueliner in the scoring race in Mikhail Sergachev. He's contributed five goals and 27 points in 28 contests. Then there's forwards Alex Killorn, Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel, who have each provided at least 20 points. In summary, there's a lot to like here.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has come around too. The 28-year-old goaltender got off to a rough start by posting a 5-5-1 record, 3.10 GAA and an .898 save percentage in his first 11 games. But since then he's been in line with what you'd expect from the five-time Vezina Trophy finalist, going 7-3-0 with 2.11 GAA and a .930 save percentage.

Blue Jackets vs. Lightning Pick

The obvious mismatch makes it a bit tough to find value in this spot.

There's a part of me that just wants to roll the dice and select Columbus on the moneyline at +265. Even with the odds so thoroughly stacked against the Blue Jackets, every team beats a better opponent sometimes, and with that kind of potential payout, there is some appeal in blindly rolling the dice. However, there's no real logic on that play.

At the end of the day, I feel compelled to recommend Tampa Bay on the puck line. It's the most likely outcome and while the return isn't amazing, it's still the best balance between safety and potential payout.

Pick: Lightning -1.5 | Play Down to -155

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