It took the Penguins nearly two months to figure out how to win consistently on home ice.
And they did it just in time to go on the road.
Their 3-1 victory against Phoenix at Mellon Arena was their third in a row at home, the longest such streak of the season. Trouble is, seven of their next eight games will be out of town, beginning with one in Edmonton at 9:38 p.m. tomorrow.
"It'd be nice to get on a roll here," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "We are just one game over .500 (7-6-2) after tonight, but we have to be a good road team, too, so these will be some good tests out West."
The Penguins have won four of their past five games and returned to .500 (12-12-2); the Coyotes, meanwhile, completed a 0-4 road trip and have slipped to 11-14.
They nearly salvaged a point last night through the efforts of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who finished with 30 saves and was nearly unbeatable until the final nine minutes.
"He was pretty solid," said center Maxime Talbot, who scored the Penguins' first goal. "We had some great scoring chances."
The Coyotes didn't. Not many, anyway.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury won his third consecutive start, but was tested seriously only a few times. The Coyotes manufactured just nine shots in the first two periods and finished the game with 18.
"That was a tough game for Marc-Andre," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "When you don't face lots of shots, it's tough to keep your focus."
The Penguins played without defenseman Sergei Gonchar (groin) for the third game in a row, and it showed in their power play. It generated just one goal -- the winner, coincidentally enough -- in eight tries, and didn't look very good doing it.
"It has to be better," Whitney said.
The Penguins had four chances with the extra man in the opening period, but took a 1-0 lead into the intermission only because their fourth line manufactured a goal as time was winding down.
Talbot, back in the lineup after sitting out the previous five games because of a high ankle sprain, scored with 35.9 seconds to go. He took a backhand pass from ex-Coyote Georges Laraque, who was behind the goal line, and threw a shot past Bryzgalov from the inner edge of the right circle for his sixth goal of the season.
Mike Zigomanis of Phoenix and Penguins right winger Colby Armstrong put shots off the crossbar early in the second, and Fleury made one of his best stops of the evening at 13:45, when he denied Mike York from point-blank range.
Bryzgalov kept it a one-goal game by getting his glove on a hard shot from the slot by Whitney with 2:52 left in the period, and less than a minute later Tyler Kennedy beat Bryzgalov with a shot, only to have the puck ricochet off the left post.
Penguins center Jordan Staal was assessed a double-minor for tripping at 18:47, and Phoenix tied the score before the second of those penalties expired.
Shane Doan got the goal, beating Fleury from inside the right circle at 1:26 of the third.
The Penguins' power play finally got on track at 11:46, when Kristopher Letang scored the goal that put them in front to stay.
He took a cross-ice feed from Sidney Crosby, who froze Bryzgalov by bluffing a slap shot from the right side, and threw in a shot from inside the left circle for his first goal of the season.
"I give all the credit to Sid," Letang said. "The net was open and I just took my time."
Bryzgalov prevented Talbot from putting the game out of reach with seven minutes left in regulation when he gloved Talbot's shot from inside the left circle -- "He had no idea where it was," Talbot said -- but couldn't prevent Kennedy from making it 3-1 with a shot from above the left dot at 15:14.
Kennedy's goal eliminated any lingering uncertainty about the outcome, although there shouldn't have been much at that point.
"We didn't deserve to win this hockey game," Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said. "They were a better team than we were."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published December 4, 2007 5:00 AM