Lightning vs. Penguins Will Be Defensive Battle Worth a Wager

Joe Catalano

Monday, December 15, 2014 3:56 PM GMT

Monday, Dec. 15, 2014 3:56 PM GMT

Sidney Crosby will be out of action tonight as he's acquired a case of the mumps. What then is the best bet for the Penguins as they host the Tampa Bay Lightning?

The top two teams in the Eastern Conference in the Tampa Bay Lightning (19-9-3) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (19-6-4) of the NHL square off tonight in what should be a whale of a game and all that we can talk about is the mumps epidemic in the NHL. Despite Crosby's absence, the Penguins are still a -115 betting favorite according to 5 Dimes Sportsbook and the total for the game is listed at 5.5 +100. Ice time is set for 7:00 p.m. ET tonight at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This game can be seen on the NBCSN network.

Although losing the best player in the NHL is a killer, these are two of the top teams that supply very deep squads which is good enough to keep the Pens as the betting favorite at home.

 

Netminders
I also remind the bettor to check on the starting goalies, which can be found from a fantasy league site and we have done that for this game. Although unconfirmed, Ben Bishop is expected to be in net for the Lightning and Pittsburgh will have Marc-Andre Fluery between the pipes.

Although two of the best in the business, Fluery has a decisive edge in this matchup as he's won his last 6 starts against the Lightning and is 7-1-2 in his last 10 games with a 2.04 GAA while Bishop has surprisingly lost his last 3 games in which he's allowed 3.44 GAA. That said, Bishop (16-6-2) is still one of the best goalies in the game and the loss of Crosby will definitely be a confidence boost for the Lightning.

 

The Greatest Show On Ice?
There's no denying that the Penguins are one of the best teams in the NHL and have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup. This is a team that plays both ends of the ice. They can score, (3.2 goals per game), can defend (2.3 goals allowed), are opportunistic (26.3% on the power play) and can also protect their net when short-handed (86.5% power play kill). There's no weakness on this team. Add in the fact that they know how to protect home ice (10-4-1 at home) and you have the reason why this team has been so successful.

Two key components to the Penguins success are center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman, Kris Letang. For the season, Malkin leads the Pens in point with 15 goals and 21 assists. He's the most efficient shooter on this hockey team. Malkin has scored in 4 consecutive games with 3 goals and 3 assists. Expect him to put a lot of pressure on Bishop.

As for Letang, he logs a massive amount of icetime; over 25 minutes per game. While being a great defender, Letang has a big time offensive game and is the hottest Penguin as of late.

He's coming off of a 2 goal effort in a shootout loss to Columbus and in his last 5 games, has 8 points. When you have a player that's so well rounded like a Kris Letang or a Brian Leetch of the past, it takes the pressure off of the teams top players offensively and Kris Letang is responsible for the Penguins success as much as anyone and will need to stay on top of his game while Sid the Kid is in isolation.

 

No Shortage of Offense
Ben Bishop needs to get his game together because he has all of the offensive support that a goalie can ask for. WIngers Nikita Kucherov and Ryan Callahan don't get a ton of ice time but make the most of their opportunities, while leading scorer Steven Stamkos (17 goals, 17 assists) has come up big all season. In games in which the Lightning have lost, Stamkos has been very silent. Aside from goaltending, this team will only go as far as Stamkos can lead them.

Tonight's game appears to be defensive battle despite the amount of offense that these teams have provided all season long. Take the 'Under' for your NHL pick.

Free NHL Pick: Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay Under 5.5 at 5 Dimes

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