The Central Division’s worst team takes on the defending champions, as the Columbus Blue Jackets (15-24-9) are visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning (30-14-2) Thursday night. The Jackets will try to snap their seven-game losing streak against the Bolts, who have won just six of their 11 games in April.
Oddly enough, each of these teams has won three of the six meetings between them this season. But recent play has Tampa Bay as big favorites at -320, while Columbus sits as a +260 underdog.
By the Numbers
The Lightning enter the game ranked fifth in the league with 3.30 goals per game, a 10.9 shooting percentage, and a 25.2 percent power play rate. They’re also just inside the Top 10 in shots per game with 30.2. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are in the bottom-four of hockey with 2.40 goals per game, an 8.2 shooting percentage, and a 14.3 percent power play rate.
Things aren’t much closer on the defensive side, either. The Bolts rank eighth with 2.61 goals allowed per game, ninth with 28.7 shots allowed, and eighth with an 82.8 percent penalty kill rate. On the other hand, the Jackets are a lowly 26th with 3.33 goals allowed and 27th with 32 shots allowed, while sitting 16th at a 79.3 percent PK rate.
Who to Watch
Starting with the visitors, Columbus’ leading scorer is right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand. The 26-year old is in the midst of a three-game point streak, giving him 15 goals and 20 assists on the year. He’s just four points ahead of Cam Atkinson, as the veteran right wing also has assists in three straight games to give him 17 helpers along with 14 goals.
Despite playing eight fewer games, center Jack Roslovic has nearly caught up to Bjorkstrand and Atkinson. Roslovic scored Columbus’ lone goal on Tuesday for his 30th point, setting a new career-high. His 20 assists are also tied with Bjorkstrand for the team-lead.
Tampa’s leading scorer resides along the blue line. Defenseman Victor Hedman is now up to a team-leading 34 assists and 42 points after registering points in seven of his last nine games. Next up is the team’s leader in goals, Brayden Point. After scoring goals in each of the past three games, Point is up to 20 on the year.
In addition, left wing Ondrej Palat trails Point by a single point. The veteran has dished out assists in three straight games, giving him 26 on the year to go along with 12 goals. Left wing Alex Killorn has also been a key factor as of late, registering multi-point efforts in two of the last four games.
The Blue Jackets are alternating goalies, and with Joonas Korpisalo drawing the last start, look for Elvis Merzlikins to slide into the crease on Thursday. Merzlikins carries an unimpressive 6-11-2 record but beats Korpisalo with a 2.98 GAA, and .910 save percentage.
Unlike Columbus’ tandem in net, the Lightning have a true workhorse in net in Andrei Vasilevskiy, who should once again find himself as the starter. The former Vezina winner might be on his way to winning the award yet again, as he boasts a 27-8-1 record along with a 2.08 GAA and .930 save percentage.
The competitiveness of this game should not be discounted, given the Jackets have managed to win half of their games against the Bolts this season. However, this game seems primed to go the Lightning’s way. Columbus is in the midst of their worst stretch of hockey all year, scoring one goal in three of their last four games as part of their seven-game losing streak.
Their offensive woes should not be aided by having to face Vasilevskiy, arguably the best netminder in the league. And with Columbus’ blue-line riddled with injury as well, expect the dynamic scorers on Tampa to do their thing. Bet the Lightning to win this game by a couple of goals.
Free Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning -1.5 goals (-111).
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