SENATORS (17-14-4) at HURRICANES (10-19-6)
TV: SNET-East, TVA, FS-Carolinas (HD)
LAST 10: Ottawa 5-3-2; Carolina 2-6-2
Season Series: This is the third of four meetings between these teams. In their first meeting on Oct. 25, Jeff Skinner tied the game 2-2 in Carolina before Jason Spezza won the game for Ottawa in the shootout. Spezza struck again in the teams' most recent meeting on Nov. 27, contributing two goals in a 4-3 win.
Big Story: While the Hurricanes continue to struggle through a difficult season, Ottawa appears to have turned things around after starting December with five losses in its first six games. The Senators are coming of a 4-3 OT win against Florida at home on Thursday. Carolina, last in the East, is 2-8-3 in its last 13 games.
Senators: Ottawa appears to be regaining the form it showed during a six-game winning streak in October. Since opening December with a 1-3-2 record, the Senators have won four of their last five, including the OT win against Florida.
Not that the win against Florida came easily. The Panthers overcame three one-goal deficits before Bobby Butler's slapper beat Scott Clemmensen for his first goal since Nov. 15.
"It was a big two points for the team," Butler said. "I just threw it at the net."
Hurricanes: Carolina brass hoped the hiring of Kirk Muller to replace Paul Maurice as coach on Nov. 28 would salvage a season that got off to a difficult start. But the 'Canes are 2-6-2 since Muller took over behind the bench. They have failed to win consecutive games since Muller's arrival and have gone 1-2-2 in their last five.
Following Sunday's a 3-2 overtime loss at Florida, Carolina hosted Phoenix on Wednesday to start a three-game homestand. Against the Coyotes, Jiri Tlusty's goal gave the Hurricanes a 3-1 lead 12:15 into the second period. But the lead wouldn't last. Cal O'Reilly replied with a goal just 1:09 later, allowing the Coyotes to regain some momentum. Rostislav Klesla and Lauri Korpikoski scored in the third period to give the Hurricanes a 4-3 loss in which they outshot Phoenix 37-19 and 11-5 in the third period.
"What we have to learn is to be more resilient," Muller said. "We got that third goal and I thought we were in good shape. When they got that second goal and you can see our body language and the team dropped its energy."
Who's Hot: Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson is on fire with nine points over a four-game point streak. Not to be outdone, Erik Karlsson has seven points over a three-game run of his own and leads all defensemen in points and assists. … For Carolina, Tuomo Ruutu has four points in his three-game point streak while Jussi Jokinen has three points in his last four games.
Injury Report: Peter Regin (shoulder) and Milan Michalek (concussion) missed the game against Florida and won't play. Jesse Winchester remains out with a concussion. … Joni Pitkanen and Tim Brent remain out for the Hurricanes while Brian Boucher (lower body) and Jeff Skinner (concussion) are on IR.
Stat Pack: While the season has been a tough one so far for the Hurricanes, they've been able to rely on their mainstay in the crease, goaltender Cam Ward. Through 30 starts, Ward leads all goaltenders with 906 shots faced. If that pace continues, he'll lead the League in shots faced for the second consecutive season. Ward was tops in the League in 2010-11 with 2,375 shots faced. ... Alfredsson enters the game with 399 career goals
Puck Drop: A huge reason for the Senators' improvement this season has been their play in the offensive zone. After ranking second-to-last in goals last season, Ottawa is seventh overall this season in goals per game. Not only has the team been filling the net in bunches compared to last season, but they've found timely scoring as well. The team is third-worst in the League in first-period goals but ranks first overall in third-period goals.