I’m not exactly a gambling aficionado, so feel free to take this unsolicited gambling advice with a grain (or a whole shaker) of salt, but I’m going to share it anyway: I think tonight would be a good night to bet on the New York Rangers vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.

When bookmakers set the lines for games, they don’t just look at the standings and toss out numbers, they consider all the tangible factors. And using those, they’ve rightly seen that there’s a favourite tonight.

Here’s why you should logically bet on the Penguins:

* They’ve won nine straight games.

* Tonight they get back the best player in hockey, Sidney Crosby.

* Tonight they get back All-Star defenseman Kris Letang.

* The Rangers are without captain Ryan Callahan (foot).

* The Rangers are without Michael Del Zotto (hip).

* Henrik Lundqvist is sick and won’t be starting for the Rangers.

Because of those juicy little tidbits, the bookmakers have Pittsburgh as major favourites tonight. Bet a buck on the Penguins, and you can win 77 cents. Bet a buck on the Rangers, and you can profit $1.10.

Here’s why you should bet on the Rangers:

For starters, you’ve got the first place team in the East playing at home which is always a bonus, but my real reasoning is this: tonight is a prime let-down game on one side, and a perfect get-ramped-up game on the other side.

The Rangers hear the Penguins footsteps in the standings. And they’re not oblivious to Sidney Crosby making his return tonight – he’s not some “Ah, whatever, don’t worry about that guy” player. They know, and they’ll prepare accordingly. They know Kris Letang is returning too.

They know they’re going into a game against a hot team with returning great players with their back-up goalie getting the start; missing Callahan and Del Zotto hurts too.

They know they have every reason to be worried about tonight. They know they have to be at their best.

Add that all up, and it’s a statement game for them, almost playoffs-esque. John Tortorella will have that team so fired up they’ll be champing at the bit to fire out of the starting gates. This is one of those days where you’re taping your shin pads on in the dressing room knowing your team needs everybody, and you have to be “on” just like everyone else if your team is to have a hope to win. You’re preparing for a war.

And while the Penguins will undoubtedly be excited to have Crosby and Letang back in the game, think what that does for the other players. Guys who’ve been asked to do more than they usually would because of Crosby’s absence finally get to exhale and sit down for a second. They can just let Sid do it (that would never be a conscious thought, but it happens). And when your minutes get cut down, it’s tougher to stay in it.

Then there’s the star factor. Sometimes you get caught up just watching your teammate instead of playing when he’s that elite. That takes away from your ability to be at your best.

And, who knows – there could be chemistry issues with Sid’s new line during their first night together.

The majority of the public will be banging the Penguins line hard tonight, which is why you get the first-place Rangers, fresh off two wins and playing at home with underdog odds.

I don’t want to feel responsible for your money when the Penguins win by 15 tonight, so please, think this through yourself. But if you’re someone who likes to throw a couple bucks on a hockey game now and again, I’d consider taking the “underdog” Rangers against the Penguins tonight.

It’s far from a sure thing, but if you’re right, the payout is awfully generous.