Coyotes-Hurricanes Preview

The Associated Press

After a rocky start to Kirk Muller's tenure in Carolina, the team has made progress lately.

Winning consecutive home games for only the second time this season would be a further sign that the Hurricanes are on the right track.

That will be the goal for Muller and the Hurricanes on Wednesday night when they face the Phoenix Coyotes in the first of three straight games at RBC Center.

Muller lost his first four games after replacing the fired Paul Maurice behind the Carolina (10-18-6) bench Nov. 28. He earned his first career coaching victory at Edmonton on Dec. 7 before his club finished a four-game trip with back-to-back losses - the last in overtime.

Four straight goals gave the Hurricanes a 4-3 victory over visiting Vancouver on Thursday but they failed to win two straight, falling 3-2 in overtime at Florida on Sunday.

That loss did give Carolina points in four of five (2-1-2) games, but it was hard for the Hurricanes to take too many positives away after they managed three shots in the third period and overtime combined.

"When you go on the road and you play that well and you play a team that hasn't hardly lost in their rink, you've got to find ways to pick up a win," Muller said. "The next step we have to do is win these games."

Cam Ward had a solid performance against the Panthers despite allowing at least three goals for the sixth time in seven starts this month. He has a 4.06 goals-against average in December, but is 3-0-0 with a 2.30 GAA in his last three games against Phoenix.

Carolina captain Eric Staal is in the midst of a dismal season, ranking last in the league with a minus-18 rating. He has only one goal in 17 home games.

Phoenix (17-13-3) avoided a third straight road loss with a 2-1 victory over Florida on Tuesday. Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata scored power-play goals for the Coyotes, who had lost four of five including Saturday's 3-2 defeat to the New York Rangers in the game's final second.

The news wasn't all good for Phoenix, which lost starting goaltender Mike Smith to a non-contact injury early in the third period. Jason LaBarbera made eight saves in relief - one on a penalty shot with 24.5 seconds left in the game to preserve the win.

"By that time in the third period, you don't feel like you are going to go in,'' said LaBarbera, who is 2-3-0 with a 3.02 GAA in five starts this season. "You do have to be ready at any time. I was kind of in la-la land, but the heart gets going pretty quick and you get out there and move around.''

Ranked 29th in the league in power-play percentage, the Coyotes scored more than one man-advantage goal for the first time since the season opener. They also did not give up a power-play tally for the first time in nine games.

The Hurricanes have won three of four against the Coyotes, scoring 16 goals in those victories. Carolina won the most recent matchup, 4-3 in overtime at Phoenix on Oct. 23, 2010.

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