I read this short piece by my good friends over at Free Tank Carter the other day. First of all, it's entirely correct. Pens fans who are panicking about being in 9th right now (don't get me wrong, they are a pleasure to behold) are fools. In addition to everything FTC says (all teams are streaky, the Pens get lots of shots on net, Kris Letang is a beast (even though I'm not immediately inclined to put a ton of stock in Point Shares per game)), the Pens have a season goal differential of +12, behind only the Rangers, Bruins, and Flyers in the East (each of which is frequently some sportswriter's flavor-of-the-week team-to-beat). People calling for Bylsma's head are idiots, recently-fired NHL coaches, or jealous of his fashion sense and erstwhile mustache.
But it got me thinking: should other teams that are panicking chill out? Should some teams maybe start to panic? What about the Rangers?
As you know, the first thing we do around here is look at goal differential. PRO TIP: If you are a professional sportswriter, and you are about to write an article about whether or not some team is any good anymore, implying that they're not, you should check their goal differential first. It will give you a pretty good idea.
A quick glance down the standings and a few things jump out at us. First of all, Pittsburgh is way out of place, as previously mentioned. No need to go further into that, Free Tank Carter did.
Second, Boston is impossibly good. Seriously, +71 in 40 games going into last night. That is on pace for +146, which would be the best goal differential since the NHL adopted an 82-game season. Even if they tie every game for the remainder of the season, their goal differential will only be beaten by 6 teams (full seasons) since the lockout. I cannot further express to you how fucking good the Boston Bruins are. But let me try.
The Bruins have scored a league-high 150 goals this season. Despite this, no individual on the team has scored more than 17. They are on pace to finish the season with seven 20-goal scorers, and no 40-goal scorers. Can we talk about distributed production? That's how a team wins in a long season and grueling playoffs. Yes, the Bs are a Marc Savard away from an injury-free roster. But they're a team that is built to withstand injury like you wouldn't believe. Fear the Bruins.
What else? We knew Florida was benefiting from being in a weak conference, handed 3rd place when they belong in 5th points-wise. But by goal differential, they belong out of the top 8 entirely. This tells us that winning the Southeast will be an enormous deal this season, because whoever comes in second will likely be scraping to find a playoff spot.
Out West, we find far fewer surprises by goal differential. The Minnesota thing has calmed itself down some, and the Blues are probably for real. On a biased note, we see that the Coyotes are only a -3, good for 7th in the conference, so hopefully, we'll see them climb a bit in the coming half-season.
And what about our Rangers? Well, the goal differential tells us what we more or less already know: the Rangers are a top team in the East, but not the best team there - well behind Boston, but decently ahead of the Pens and Flyers. No reason for concern there.
But watching this team, you can't help but feel the results are a little better than they deserve to be. It's awfully hard to quantify the feeling that the Rangers are just plain winning games in which they're getting outplayed. But maybe there are some things we can look at. Of the Rangers 119 goals this season, Marian Gaborik has scored 23, Brad Richards 15. That's two guys adding up to almost a third of the team's total goals. There's a concern: if one or two of our top guys gets injured or slumps, things might start to take a turn (see the 106:08 scoreless streak that ended last night in Toronto thanks to Mike Rupp).
And then there's fatigue. I understand that John Tortorella runs an incredibly intense training camp, and I understand that John Tortorella doesn't believe that fatigue is an excuse. But I think this leads John Tortorella to make some questionable ice time decisions. We all know Dan Girardi leads the whole damn NHL in ice time per game. But, like, why does no one but me think that's bad? Ryan McDonagh isn't so far behind. Is it any wonder that that pair, McDonagh especially, starts to look exhausted on the second night of back-to-back games?
Just some food for thought, here. The wheels don't show any immediate signs of coming off. But if you were looking for reasons you might want to be concerned, you could find some. That's alls I'm sayin'.