The Lightning are known as a strong road team. They’re also elite coming off a loss. Both situations apply tonight. For what it’s worth, they’ve also been dominant in head-to-head matchups vs. Columbus, winning 14 of the last 18 outright, often by multiple goal margins.
This year’s Blue Jackets roster is stronger thanks to signing the best available Free Agent on the market, forward Johnny Gaudreau (previously with Calgary). However, their near-term outlook just got murkier after losing superstar Patrik Laine, one of the best goal scorers on the planet, to an injury opening night (placed on IR, expected to miss 3-4 weeks). Their starting goaltender Elvis Merzlikins also remains out with an illness, which means backup Daniel Tarasov has been tapped to hold the fort between the pipes again tonight.
All of this points to decent value on Tampa Bay moneyline tonight, but for better odds, I prefer the risk/reward trade off on a bet defenseman Victor Hedman will record 3+ shots on net. Tampa historically dominates shot flows in this matchup regardless of location (i.e. home, away… doesn’t matter). And Columbus is also known to allow flurries of shots, a trend that continued Opening Night.
Now, here is the wild stat that led me to back Hedman, specifically: Columbus allowed 43 shots on Wednesday (which is A LOT). And 19 of those 43 shots were surrendered to defensemen. That’s a 44.2% split — an insane number. Usually, outlier percentages like this correlate with taking penalties, since it’s easier for Defensemen to record shots in 5-on-4 situations. Defensemen shoot from father distances, and the fewer bodies there are on the ice, the easier it is to get shots on net. What’s wild about Columbus’ 44.2% mark on opening night though, is that it happened in a game where they only took 2 penalties. This reveals that the high percentage might be less a fluke and more a function of Columbus’ defensive scheme in even strength. They prefer to push shots to the outside (i.e. where defensemen shoot from), which leads me to see value in Hedman tonight as Tampa’s primary shooting defenseman.
For what it’s worth, Columbus’ scheme has been favorable for defensemen shots for years, and Hedman has taken advantage of it, clearing the 3+ shots mark in 7 of their last 10 matchups.