The NHL standings are an imperfect reflection of team performance. Make no mistake, what matters at the end of the season is where teams place, but at the same time bounces, referee error, overtime points and a million other factors can play havoc with where a team finishes.

There isn’t a perfect measure, at least not that I’ve seen. That said, goal differential is an interesting comparable, because there’s some argument that it’s a better reflection of team ability. In the interest of identifying teams who might be better than their record indicates, I’ve decided to compare the projected points of every NHL team with their goal differentials.

This is the chart for the Eastern Conference:

Rank Team Projection Goal Diff.
1 Buffalo 115 26
2 New Jersey 113 26
3 Washington 113 46
4 Pittsburgh 100 18
5 Boston 92 2
6 N.Y. Rangers 87 -4
7 Ottawa 87 -12
8 N.Y. Islanders 87 -15
9 Philadelphia 85 6
10 Atlanta 84 -7
11 Florida 84 -8
12 Montreal 82 -11
13 Tampa Bay 82 -21
14 Toronto 71 -39
15 Carolina 60 -45

A few teams stand out. Philadelphia is the most obvious one here; while they’re currently a bubble team, by goal differential they’re probably a second-tier contender in the Eastern Conference, and if I were betting on teams improving their record over the second half they’d be one of the first teams I’d consider.

On the other end of the scale are the Senators and Islanders. I don’t know if I’d bet against Ottawa; a big part of their problem has been goaltending and if they address that hole I think we could see their differential (and their play) improve rapidly. The Islanders are another matter; they’ve been blessed with solid goaltending but have other issues, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them drop out of the playoff race.