Although they're at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Carolina Hurricanes don't look anything like a last-place team when they face the New York Islanders.
The bottom two teams in the East meet Tuesday night at RBC Center with the Hurricanes looking to continue their dominance in this series.
Carolina (13-21-6) has been better since Kirk Muller replaced the fired Paul Maurice on Nov. 28, guiding the team to a 5-4-2 mark after the Hurricanes lost their first four games following the coaching change.
That improvement hasn't been enough to move Muller's club out of last place in the conference, a spot it shares with the Islanders (13-17-6), though New York has four games in hand.
The Hurricanes have been particularly good lately at home, where they've won three straight and four of five. They haven't won four in a row at RBC Center since Jan. 24-March 11, 2010.
Poor road play continued to plague Carolina on Saturday against Tampa Bay, as the Lightning scored three third-period goals en route to a 5-2 victory.
"Tampa was ready in the third and we weren't, and they outplayed us,'' Muller said.
Carolina has rarely been outplayed against the Islanders, winning the last six matchups and going 12 straight meetings (10-0-2) since its last regulation loss Jan. 22, 2008.
Eric Staal has been a huge part of that success, with 15 goals and seven assists in his last 16 games in the series. Carolina's captain set up both goals in Saturday's loss, giving him five points in his last two contests after he went six games without one. Staal also took over the team scoring lead from Jeff Skinner, who has missed 10 games while recovering from a concussion.
Also looking forward to another meeting with the Islanders is Cam Ward, who is 14-1-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average since losing his first matchup with them in 2005.
The Islanders will open a three-game road trip with momentum following home wins over Calgary and Edmonton.
John Tavares and Matt Moulson combined for five points in Saturday's 4-1 victory over the Oilers after Evgeni Nabokov's 29 saves keyed a 3-1 win against the Flames two days earlier.
"We have to continue to focus on things that give us our identity,'' coach Jack Capuano said.
Closing December with a pair of wins allowed New York to end the month with a 6-6-2 record - an improvement from November's 4-7-2 mark.
Tavares has regained his scoring touch with three goals in four games after just two in his previous 21 contests.
"I just try to bring the same work ethic to every game,'' Tavares said. "We just have to keep this going.''
Linemates Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau have also been hot. Moulson leads the Islanders with 17 goals - 11 in his last 16 games - while Parenteau has three goals and five assists in his last six contests.
Nabokov will likely be back in net after stopping 59 of 61 shots in his last two starts. He is 6-1-1 with a 2.08 GAA lifetime against the Hurricanes, but all those games came while he was with San Jose.