In no way does a stat of this sort tell the whole story, though interesting nonetheless at the one-seventh point of the year: at this early stage, Florida is ranked 12th overall in the Eastern Conference (as of games through 11/07/10), but their goal-differential numbers weave a rather different tale: After 12 games, Panthers goals-for: 36, goals-against: 32. Call it a plus-four differential. Stranger yet, with a 5-7 record. Credit new defensive coach Gord Murphy with the improvement.
Where do those numbers rank within the conference? Third; tied with Pittsburgh, lagging behind Washington and Boston at +13, and Philadelphia's +11. In layman's terms, the Cats are averaging 3 GF per game, and though that hasn't translated to a winning record (a couple of pond-hockey stinkers contributed in that area) Florida has been as defensively "gifted" as any club in the conference so far. Witness: when's the last time you heard "Panthers" and "giving up less than 29 shots per game" in the same paragraph? In fact, the number currently stands at a 28.8 average through twelve contests. That's ninth in the east. Not impressed?
How about where they finished a season ago? 34.1 (aka last in the National Hockey League). The year before? 34.7 (also last). 2007-08? 33.6...good for 29th, behind Atlanta. Statistically, the Gatos haven't even approached such a lowball number since 1999-00, when they cleared the gates with 29.6...yet scored a click under three goals less per game.
Back to the present: want to even things up a bit? Remove two of their goals from Friday's victory over Carolina, making the final score a bit closer at 5-4, and the totals still keep the Cats ballpark to the leaders listed above. In fact, they only slip out of the tie with Pittsburgh; Montreal, the next closest club in goals differential with +1 (and an 8-5-1 record), still lags.
Going beyond the Penguins comparison (currently in 9th place), the Panthers have a superior goals-differential number to such Western Conference clubs as Stanley Cup champion Chicago (+1), Nashville (-7), Phoenix (-10), Calgary (-3...muahahahaha!), and tied with Conference Finalist San Jose.
A few positive numbers ensconced among a losing record typically mean little, but they're something with which to gauge those baby steps we've chatted so often about.