Monday’s schedule is chock full of NHL action, with 28 of 31 teams in action. Nine of those games start at 7 p.m. ET and the Nashville Predators (28-22-2) and Columbus Blue Jackets (16-25-11) are among those in the early showdowns.
Nashville has dominated the regular-season series against Columbus, winning five of the six meetings. While the Predators won’t clinch a playoff spot with a win, they can eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks from contention, leaving the chase for the final playoff spot in the Central Division down to Nashville and the Dallas Stars.
The Predators are sportsbook favorites Monday, checking in at -190 while the underdog Blue Jackets are +165 at home.
Nashville Predators Preview
Nashville’s second-half turnaround has been remarkable. On March 13, the club was 11-16-1 and the playoffs seemed a near impossibility. But somehow they flipped the switch, going 17-6-1 since then and surging into fourth in the Central.
One of the key pieces in that turnaround is Mikael Granlund. With points in four of his last five games, Granlund leads the team in goals (13) and is third in points (25). Calle Jarnkrok (12 goals, 13 assists) has supplemented the scoring and defenseman Roman Josi (14 power-play points) has given Nashville a spark with the man advantage.
Juuse Saros’ second-half surge is equally impressive. The 26-year-old Finnish netminder is tied for sixth in the league in wins. He has a 19-10-1 record, a 2.28 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage and three shutouts.
Viktor Arvidsson (undisclosed), Dante Fabbro (upper body), Mathieu Olivier (lower body), Mark Borowiecki (upper body) and Luca Sbisa (upper body) are all expected to miss Monday’s contest.
Columbus Blue Jackets Preview
The Blue Jackets have long since been eliminated from playoff contention and have a demanding offseason ahead. With five restricted and seven unrestricted free agents, Columbus’ roster could look dramatically different next year.
One of those restricted free agents is winger Patrik Laine. Since Winnipeg traded him to Columbus in late January, Laine has 10 goals and eight assists in 41 games with his new club. After being nearly a point-per-game player in 2019-20, the drop in production is staggering.
The Blue Jackets have also been hampered by injuries. Winger Gustav Nyquist (shoulder), defenseman Zach Werenski (hernia surgery) and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (lower body) are done for the season. Boone Jenner (broken finger) might be back for the final game, but he will probably miss the rest of the season as well. Laine (illness) didn’t play Saturday against Carolina and is questionable for Monday’s game.
With Korpisalo sidelined, Columbus will look to Elvis Merzlikins between the pipes. Merzlikins has a 7-12-4 record, a 2.75 GAA, a .917 save percentage and two shutouts. However, the Blue Jackets have not named a starter, so rookie Veini Vehvilainen may make his career start.
The Pick is In
With so many injuries, illnesses, and absences, Columbus is in over its heads against a Nashville club with playoff aspirations. However, at just 2.63 goals per game, 10th-lowest in the league, the Predators aren’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard. And while the Blue Jackets give up the sixth-most goals per game at 3.25, Nashville hasn’t shown the offensive firepower needed to feel confident in a puck line bet unless Vehvilainen is in net.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, the bet to make here is Columbus +1½ goals (-160) on the puck line. The Blue Jackets block the sixth-most shots per game (13.9), which may be enough to slow down Nashville’s limited number of scorers. This should be a low-scoring game, allowing Columbus to keep it close.