We nailed our fifth straight winner last week in this NHL pick-of-the-week feature as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 in a game that went Over the total of 6. The combined total of 7 goals scored in that game may make it seem like a tight victory on that wager, but the key handicap in that contest was expecting at least 3 goals from each side — guaranteeing that we’d see a seventh goal and a win on our bet.

Similar things may be in store for us again tonight as another pair of potent attacks square off, this time in Tampa Bay as the Lightning hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets in a possible Eastern Conference playoff preview. The Bolts have scored nearly half a goal per game more than any other team in the NHL this season, keying a 32-8-2 start to the campaign that includes a 16-game point streak. Meanwhile, Columbus may be known for playing tough defense in front of star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, but the Jackets enter this contest ranked 10th in the league in goals as they hold onto third spot in the competitive Metropolitan Division.

Is the Over the way to go once again this week, or might we see a rare defensive struggle between these high-flying squads? Of course, it’s possible that the best value in this game might also be on one of these sides, whether it’s the Lightning as a home favorite or the road-warrior Blue Jackets to earn another victory in enemy territory.

Let’s break it down and figure out which way is the best way to bet this one.

Columbus Blue Jackets/Tampa Bay Lightning Betting Odds

As always, any analysis of the best way to bet a game should begin with the betting odds that are offered. If the odds on an underdog are more generous than we think they should be, the underdog is a smart bet — regardless of whether they’re more likely to lose the game than to win it. As long as we keep making wagers that pay better than they should, we’re going to come out ahead in the long run.

The odds are certainly generous enough on the Blue Jackets here, with the books hanging a sweet +159 moneyline price on Columbus at the time of writing. Then again, it takes a pretty good return on the visitor in order to get anyone to bet against the Lightning at home, considering Tampa has lost just 4 times in 21 games this season at Amalie Arena. Suddenly, the Lightning at just -176 odds doesn’t look so bad, does it?

As I suggested in the introduction, games between high-scoring teams often see an Over/Under of 6.5, so it’s no surprise to see this game lined at that price. At the time of writing, odds on the Over 6.5 were slightly juiced (-110) while the Under 6.5 paid even money (+100).

Finally, we should never forget to take a look at the puck line, which allows us to either bet the favorite at an underdog return or take the underdog with a bit extra insurance. Tampa -1.5 (win by 2 goals or more) pays +145, although just 18 of the Lightning’s 32 wins have come by more than 1 goal. Columbus +1.5 isn’t cheap (-165), and 12 of the Blue Jackets’ 17 losses have come by more than 1 goal, making me think this isn’t an avenue worth pursuing.

All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from BetOnline.ag at 9:00 p.m. eastern on January 8, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.

Blue Jackets On A Roll, But Leaky Defensively

After spinning their wheels early in the season, the Blue Jackets have finally gotten on a roll. Columbus comes into this game having earned points in 9 of its last 11 games overall (8-2-1), and the Jackets have also won 5 of their last 6 games on the road. Not that success away from home has ever been much of an issue for Columbus this year — the boys from southern Ohio are among the league leaders in road victories, with their 13 road wins just 2 behind Tampa for the most in the NHL.

If you were to ask Columbus head coach John Tortorella about whether he likes the way his team is playing right now, though, I’m not sure he’d say yes. Part of that is Torts never being happy (it surprises me that his fiery personality hasn’t worn thin on the Columbus bench already), but the biggest reason I say that is because Tortorella likes to win with defense. And Columbus hasn’t been doing a very good job of late when it comes to keeping the puck out of its own net, giving up at least 3 goals in 5 straight outings. I know the NHL is higher scoring this year than in recent seasons, but consistently giving up 3 goals isn’t a recipe for success in this league and the Blue Jackets need to tighten things up if they’re going to make a playoff run this year.

Even more alarming is the opposition that the Blue Jackets have been giving up all of these goals to. Florida, Carolina, Philadelphia, Ottawa and the Rangers have all scored 3 goals against Columbus over the past couple of weeks, all squads who would miss the playoffs if the regular season were to end today. Columbus was able to win 4 of those 5 games by capitalizing on those teams’ leaky defenses, but scoring at least 4 goals to beat Tampa Bay is a different challenge altogether.

How Will Lightning Respond After Point Streak Snapped?

It’s easy to want to bet on the best team in the NHL, but there are a couple intangibles about the Lightning here that makes me nervous to back the Bolts.

The first thing is that Tampa Bay just had a 16-game point streak snapped Saturday with a 5-2 loss at San Jose. While a natural reaction may be to think that the Lightning is in “bounceback” mode because of that loss, the reality is that most teams suffer a bit of an emotional letdown immediately after a long winning streak comes to an end. I read several interviews by Tampa Bay players who were commending themselves on going so many consecutive games with at least 1 point (not losing in regulation time, in other words), rather than lamenting a losing effort against the Sharks. We saw the Buffalo Sabres go through a similar situation a month or so ago, when the Sabres lost 5 straight games immediately after their 10-game winning streak was ended with a loss at Tampa Bay.

The second thing that is risky about backing the Lightning here is that the team is playing its first game after a 3-game west coast road trip. Playing 3 consecutive games in California can play tricks on your body clock, and it’s common to see home teams come out a bit flat in their first game after a long road trip. A 3-game trip isn’t exactly long by NHL standards, but the distance covered certainly was. The silver lining for Tampa Bay is that the Lightning has had 2 days off to recover since the road trip ended Saturday, but it’s still not an ideal situation to back the big favorite.

Finally, the last time Tampa Bay hosted Columbus, the Lightning handed the Blue Jackets a humiliating 8-2 defeat October 13 at Amalie. Not only does that make it a possibility that Tampa players take the Jackets a little lightly in this spot (it’s only human nature), but it also motivates Columbus to come in and play a much better game this time.

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Betting Pick

One reason our win-loss record has been so good with this NHL Pick Of The Week series has been a reluctance to take many big underdogs (over +150 or higher). Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t taken many (if any) favorites higher than -130, but I typically look to pick games that I fully expect to win, not just looking for value.

However, I’m going to break that mould here. Given the Blue Jackets’ success on the road this season, the tough situational factors facing Tampa Bay and the revenge angle that benefits Columbus, I think the Jackets have a great chance of stealing a victory tonight in Tampa.

Look for Columbus to bring a defense-first mentality to the rink tonight, with its players knowing that they can’t afford to let up at all against this explosive Tampa Bay attack. I’m personally playing the Blue Jackets Moneyline +159 here in a game that I think Columbus has about a 45% chance of winning, giving us great value (+120 would be fair return for a 45% probability). But if you’re looking to reduce your risk a bit, other options could be to play the Blue Jackets Team Total Over 2.5 or — if your sportsbook offers it — Columbus +0.5 in regulation time, meaning that you win your wager as long as the Jackets get this game into overtime (or win outright).

Place Your Bet Here

Good luck and we’ll see you again next week!

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