Not much was expected this season from the youthful Phoenix Coyotes. They could surpass expectations, however, if they can improve their dismal play at home.
The Coyotes look to end a franchise-record six-game home losing streak Thursday night when they face the Dallas Stars for the third time this season.
After finishing last in the Western Conference with 67 points in 2006-07, the Coyotes figured to have a very difficult time making the playoffs in 2007-08. While the postseason may still be a longshot, there's little doubt that Wayne Gretzky's team is improving.
On Monday, rookie Peter Mueller recorded his first career hat trick and Shane Doan scored with 30.3 seconds left in overtime as Phoenix beat Anaheim 6-5.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," said Mueller, the eighth overall pick in the 2006 draft. "The guys have been laying it out there on a silver platter for me. Tonight I just got the bounces and they went in."
Steven Reinprecht added a power-play goal and two assists, helping the Coyotes (6-7-0) win their fifth straight on the road and fourth in six games overall.
While Phoenix ranks among the NHL leaders with five road victories, it is 1-6-0 at home and has been outscored 25-12 during its six consecutive losses at Jobing.com Arena.
That pattern has also held in the season series with Dallas. The Stars won 5-3 at Phoenix on Oct. 27, but the Coyotes defeated Dallas on the road 5-0 on Friday. Mikael Tellqvist stopped 35 shots in that contest after allowing 11 goals in his previous two starts against the Stars.
The Stars have won their last six visits to Phoenix, although two of those games ended in shootouts and another went to overtime.
Dallas (7-6-2) improved to 2-0 on its four-game road trip Wednesday, getting a brilliant 38-save performance from Marty Turco in a 3-1 victory over San Jose.
Turco's effort, though, was overshadowed by center Mike Modano, who scored two goals in the first 4:24 to become the highest-scoring American in NHL history.
"The accomplishment is phenomenal," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "What he's meant to hockey in the United States, it goes without saying. He does it with such class. It's great to see him finally get it."
Modano's goals gave him 1,233 points in 1,253 regular-season games - 242 games fewer than previous record holder Phil Housley.
"The longer it's drawn out, the more it's forced me to appreciate the situation and enjoy it, start having some fun," said Modano, who had been held without a point in his three previous games. "I think it's kind of dragged me down a little bit emotionally thinking about it every night, going out there and trying to make it happen. The two tonight couldn't have been written up any better with the first two shots, two goals."
More of Modano's points have come against the Coyotes franchise than any other opponent. He has 88 points in 82 career games versus the Coyotes, a number which includes matchups when they were the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets moved to Phoenix and changed their name to the Coyotes before the 1996-97 season.
Turco has stopped 57 of 58 shots in his last two games, and is 7-1-0 with a 1.91 goals-against average in his last 10 appearances against the Coyotes.