In a rematch of last year’s shocking first-round playoff series, the Tampa Bay Lightning (35-15-5) head to Ohio Monday to face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets (30-17-9). This is the first time these Eastern Conference foes have gone head-to-head since last April, when Columbus capped off an improbable four-game sweep of the top-seeded Lightning.
Here is a preview for Monday night’s game, along with odds and a free pick.
By The Numbers
The Lightning come into this one on fire, currently riding a six-game winning streak and trailing the Boston Bruins by just five points in the Atlantic Division. This season, Tampa Bay is second in the NHL with 3.58 goals per game, scoring on a league-high shooting percentage of 11.4. The power play is once again very strong, ranking fifth with 24.4 percent success.
Tampa Bay is strong on defense and in goaltending, allowing the sixth-fewest goals per game with 2.73. The Lightning are also 12th in shots allowed with 30.8 per game and have the league’s third-strongest penalty kill at 83.9 percent.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are also red hot, winning eight of their last 10 and jumping several teams to sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division. Overall, Columbus is still just 27th in goals per game with 2.63 despite ranking in the top 10 in shots.
This is due to the third-lowest shooting percentage in the league at 8.2, along with the 23rd-ranked power-play percentage of 16.9.
The defense has been much more consistent for Columbus, where its 2.41 goals allowed is the third-best in the league. The Blue Jackets also fifth in shots allowed with just under 30 per game, with a penalty-kill percentage of 82.9, which is also top 10 in hockey.
Who To Watch
Tampa Bay’s go-to point producer over the last two seasons has been right wing Nikita Kucherov. After last season’s record-setting year that resulted in his first Hart Trophy, Kucherov is back to his scoring ways, registering eight goals and 10 assists during his current 10-game point streak.
He now has 67 points on 25 goals and 42 assists, making the Lightning a dangerous team on a nightly basis.
Along with Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos have been joining in on the fun during the Lightning’s six-game winning streak. Point has scored two goals along with seven assists during his current six-game point streak, bringing him to 20 goals and 31 helpers.
As for Stamkos, the longtime face of Tampa Bay has a goal in four straight contests and 15 points in his 10-game point streak, nine of those coming from goals to give him 26 on the season.
Columbus doesn’t have the offensive firepower of Tampa Bay, but lately it is getting some scoring out of its top defenseman. Zach Werenski has managed to find the back of the net twice in the last three games, registering points in three of the last four contests.
Werenski’s 17 goals set a franchise record for goals from a defenseman and combined with 16 assists set him on pace for the first 50-point season of his career.
Joining Werenski on the score sheets lately are fellow defenseman Seth Jones and forward Pierre-Luc Dubois. Jones scored a goal his last time on the ice, his sixth on the year, giving him 30 total points through 56 games.
As for Dubois, the young center has a solid 17 goals and 25 assists this year. He has been held pointless for three straight games following two-goal, three-point performance against the Canadiens.
Tampa Bay is expected to start its Vezina-winning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy Monday night. Vasilevskiy is 29-9-3 with a 2.48 GAA and a .918 percentage, along with two shutouts.
Columbus will likely counter with its rookie revelation Elvis Merzlikins, who is off to a 12-7-4 record, with a 2.19 GAA and a league-leading .930 save percentage and five shutouts.
Odds and Pick
Despite being the road team, the Lightning are slight favorites Monday night in Columbus. According to FanDuel Sportsbook, Tampa Bay is -145 on the moneyline.
Revenge will be on the mind all game long for the Lightning Monday night, and I think they’ll be able to get it. There are too many guys on Tampa Bay who are breaking out on offense right now, and I think it’s going to put some serious pressure on Merzlikins.
Give me the Lightning -145 to take Monday night’s game in Columbus for their seventh win in a row.