Before the season started, I was convinced Tampa was going to be good (for the wrong reasons, natch) but they've turned out to be way better than I could have ever expected. They've dominated the league at even-strength and have a top 10 power-play (currently #5) and penalty-kill (#1) and are second in the East. The only hole has been the unexpectedly poor goaltending, which may or may not be resolved by signing Dwayne Roloson (I thought the Mike Smith/Dan Ellis tandem would be fine, and they've been so bad that it's hard to believe that either goaltender is much above replacement level.)
So Tampa has a negative goal differential, but it has oddly been acquired over a handful of games: a 6-0 loss to Florida, a 6-0 loss to Washington, an 8-1 loss to Boston and an 8-1 loss to Pittsburgh. Letting games get out of hand can really distort a team's overall statistics, and without those games, Tampa looks a lot better - first, the skaters:
|4 bad games||4||2||4||-100|
|Rest of Season||43||135||241||-17|
The +/- is the big story there, obviously. Mike Lundin, Dominic Moore and Pavel Kubina were all -10 in those games, which is often unrecoverable even if you play very well for your other 78 games. And in goal:
|4 bad games||4||140||28||35.0||800|
|Rest of Season||43||1168||115||27.2||902|
Tampa has simply had awful, awful goaltending, to the point of being embarrassing. They've been good at all of the things that represent true skill, and bad at some things that are heavily luck-driven. Look for them to be a pretty damned good team for the rest of the season.