This article is part of our The Daily Puck series.
One of the stats I love looking at is goal differential. It's a basic measure of how many goals one team has scored relative to their opposition, but I've found it to be quite accurate at determining which teams were actually good, which teams were better than their records suggest and which teams were worse than their records suggest. The vast majority of teams that made the playoffs had a positive goal differential, and those with the best differentials often finished with better records and achieved better results.
And the league's five best teams based on goal differential:
Stars, Islanders, Rangers tied at plus-8
And the league's five worst:
Blue Jackets, minus-19
Maple Leafs, minus-9
The biggest surprise is Florida, partly because they're really benefitting from an improved Erik Gudbranson. With Aaron Ekblad, Willie Mitchell and Brian Campbell, they have a nice top-four that has mobility, experience and some size. If I had to pick now, the Panthers would be my Eastern Conference dark horse. If Vincent Trocheck and the rest of the young core can keep scoring, there's no reason this team can't snag a spot. There's a lot of ifs, but fantasy-wise, it may be time to put a little faith into those beach bums.
Columbus and Calgary are at the bottom mainly because of unorganized defenses and some horrific goaltending. But Sergei Bobrovsky is turning it around with two straight wins, and that might be all the former Vezina winner needs to get back on track. The defense continues to be shaky, but a little shouting at Jack Johnson from John Tortorella to stop coughing up the biscuit and better goaltending will put them back in the race before it's really too late.
Calgary's situation is a little direr. Three goalies and no apparent starter after an entire preseason and the end of the first month could spell panic and a disaster. The Flames should have multiple good offers by now with their embarrassment of riches on defense, but most teams are close to the cap and simply can't afford them. The Flames were a popular pick for regression this season and it's starting right off the bat.
Then there's the Ducks, whose poor goal differential can be chalked up by their perplexing inability to score or defend, as this Vladimir Tarasenko gimme shows:
Tarasenko scores on a Blues 2-on-0 pic.twitter.com/aNUHp5KpBE— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 30, 2015
You can't watch this as a Ducks fan and not have your rib cage cave in and crush your internal organs.
Mike Babcock likes to say that a team needs to score 230 goals to make the playoffs, which is around 2.8 goals per game. The Ducks are at one goal per game and on pace for 82 goals for the season. See, that's way off, which is why many think the Ducks will right the ship soon, especially for a team that has a few scorers. But, man, what a mess, and my gut tells me something – a trade, a firing, a trial by combat – has to happen soon.
Columbus should be okay, Anaheim is on the verge of being really not okay and Calgary is fully not okay. Act accordingly.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid
Flyers (Michal Neuvirth) at Sabres (Chad Johnson), 7:00 PM
Maple Leafs (Jonathan Bernier) at Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist), 7:00 PM
Blue Jackets (Sergei Bobrovsky) at Capitals (Braden Holtby), 7:00 PM
Avalanche (Semyon Varlamov) at Hurricanes (Cam Ward), 7:00 PM
Senators (Craig Anderson) at Red Wings (Jimmy Howard), 7:30 PM
Bruins (Tuukka Rask) at Panthers (Roberto Luongo), 7:30 PM
Blackhawks (Scott Darling) at Wild (Devan Dubnyk), 8:00 PM
Canadiens (Mike Condon) at Flames (Joni Ortio), 9:00 PM
Canucks (Richard Bachman) at Coyotes (Mike Smith), 10:00 PM
Injury News For Teams Playing Friday
Cody McCormick, C (blood clots) – out indefinitely.
Zach Bogosian, D (lower body) – skated Thursday but no return date set.
Tyler Ennis, LW (lower body) – did not play Thursday; questionable.
Evander Kane, LW (MCL) – out 4-6 weeks.
Robin Lehner, G (high ankle sprain) – out 8-10 weeks.
New York Rangers
Viktor Stalberg, LW (head) – will not play.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Brandon Saad, LW (illness) – will not play.
Nothing of note.
Jesse Winchester, LW (concussion) – no return date set.
Clarke MacArthur, LW (concussion) – no return date set.
Chris Phillips, D (back) – no return date set.
Mike Hoffman, LW (lower body) – will not play.
Curtis Lazar, RW (concussion) – will not play.
Detroit Red Wings
Brad Richards, C (back) – placed on IR; no return date set.
Johan Franzen, RW (concussion) – placed on IR; no return date set.
Pavel Datsyuk, C (ankle) – practiced Monday; no return date set.
Mike Green, D (upper body) – out one or two weeks.
Kyle Quincey, D (concussion) – out for a week.
Kevan Miller, D (undisclosed) – saw limited action Tuesday; questionable.
Joonas Kemppainen, C (undisclosed) – game-time decision; questionable.
Dennis Seidenberg, D (back) – practiced Thursday; no return date set.
Dan Hamhuis, D (lower body) – will not play.
Brandon Prust, LW (ankle) – will not play.
Jacob Markstrom, G (lower body) – skated Tuesday; no return date set.
Chris Higgins, LW (foot) – skated Tuesday; no return date set.
Jake Allen, G, STL – After shutting out the Lightning, Allen was given a second straight start and allowed just one goal in a 2-1 win over the Ducks. After allowing three goals in each of his first three starts, Allen now has allowed just one goal in his past two games. It's clear Ken Hitchcock is going with whoever has the hotter hand, and right now it's definitely Allen.
Jamie Benn, LW, DAL – He's got seven points in his past three games, and fueled the Stars to a comeback win in overtime against Vancouver last night. There should be no doubt that Benn is one of the best players in the league, a playmaking, sniping power forward Rick Nash could only dream of being. He's a top-5 fantasy asset.
Anthony Duclair, RW, ARI – We all saw that coming, right? After a hot start, Duclair's gone without a point in four straight games, and in two of them he was held without a single shot on net. His hat trick was nice, but rookies are often streaky scorers, and while Duclair will certainly start scoring again, it's just hard to predict when. He's going through a dry spell right now.
Justin Abdelkader, LW, DET – After scoring five points in two games to start the season, Abdelkader has failed to register a point in seven straight games. He's the type of player who's much more valuable in real life, because the things he does on the ice to help his team win don't really translate into raw numbers. Remember when Dustin Brown used to score 20 goals and 50 points on a regular basis when Anze Kopitar was averaging around 70 points? Abdelkader is to Brown as Kopitar is to Henrik Zetterberg.
Colton Parayko, D, STL – I've been singing this kid's praises for nearly twoweeks now, and if four points in three games and over 22 minutes played each night still can't convince you… go home, you're in denial.