Blue Jackets, Penguins to Return from Break with an ‘Under’ Winner

Matthew Jordan

Tuesday, December 26, 2017 6:15 PM UTC

Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017 6:15 PM UTC

The NHL resumes from its holiday break Wednesday night with a heavy slate of games, perhaps none more intriguing than Columbus visiting division rival and scuffling Pittsburgh.

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins (-155, 5.5)Free NHL Pick: Under 5.5Best Line Offered: BetOnline

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Columbus (22-13-2) has never won a division title in franchise history but is just a point out of New Jersey’s lead in the Metropolitan – although I tend to think Washington wins the Metro yet again. The Jackets are currently +650 third-favorites at Bovada to win the Eastern Conference title for a first time.

Pittsburgh (18-16-3) hasn’t played much like a two-time Stanley Cup champion this season, and the Pens’ 39 points are ahead of just Philadelphia in the Metropolitan Division. Sidney Crosby & Co. would not make the playoffs as things stand. It might also stun you to know that the Penguins’ minus-14 goal differential is the worst in the division. There are Cup hangovers and then there are major issues. The Penguins are +900 on the NHL futures to win the East and +1800 to hoist a third straight Cup come June.

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Didn’t We Just Play You?

It’s an interesting scheduling twist here as the teams play at PPG Paints Arena for the second time in less than a week. Last Thursday, the Penguins beat the Blue Jackets 3-2 in a shootout. Defenseman Kris Letang scored the winner. You rarely see Crosby or Evgeni Malkin drop the gloves, but both did in that game. Malkin was the No. 1 star with a goal. Columbus sent it to a shootout on Artemi Panarin’s power-play goal at 16:14 of the third. Sergei Bobrovsky was the third star with 39 saves in a losing effort.

Pittsburgh then played Saturday and laid an egg in a 4-0 loss at home to Anaheim – the Pens haven’t won back-to-back games since the first two days of December. Letang and Crosby were both minus-2 in that one. Letang is a team-worst minus-15 on the season and Crosby, who has just two points in his past six games, is second-worst at minus-10. Only two players – Justin Schultz and Matt Huwnick – have a positive plus/minus. Pittsburgh is good on the power play (third at 24.4 percent) but scores just 2.8 goals per game overall (18th).

The Blue Jackets are even worse offensively as they rank 24th in goals (2.7 per game) and dead last on the power play (12.2 percent). To make matters worse, the team will be without forwards Cam Atkinson and Alex Wennberg for 4-6 weeks. Atkinson was hurt in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers, while Wennberg’s injury happened vs. the Penguins. Atkinson got a mammoth extension this year after scoring a career-high 35 goals in 2016-17 but has just six goals and seven assists. Wennberg has only four goals and 12 assists but was plus-7. A couple of weeks ago, Columbus also lost center Brandon Dubinsky to a broken orbital bone suffered in a fight vs. Edmonton.

The Verdict

Neither team can score, while the Blue Jackets’ Bobrovsky is one of the best netminders in the NHL. Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray hasn’t allowed more than three goals in a game this month since returning from injury. This smells like a 3-1ish Pittsburgh final. The ‘under’ is 4-1 in the past five meetings in Pittsburgh. It’s 4-1-1 in the Penguins’ past six overall. ‘Under’ it is.

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