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Hot Team: Oklahoma City Barons
While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is busy tearing up the World Juniors in Russia, Oklahoma City’s offense hasn’t skipped a beat without him. The Barons are on a four-game winning streak, scoring 19 times in that span.
Marc Arcobello has been the biggest beneficiary in Nugent-Hopkins’ absence, with 17 points in December after totaling 11 in the first two months of the season. Arcobello is playing significant time with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, both of whom are averaging well over a point per game.
Eberle leads the league in scoring with 47 points. Although Oklahoma City is in fourth place in the competitive South Division, it is only four points behind Charlotte for the division lead. Expect that lead to narrow once Nugent-Hopkins returns.
Cold Team: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
After winning 13 of 16 games, the Penguins have one win in their last 11, dropping all the way to fourth in the East Division. It’s a stunning decline that exposes issues with both their offense and their defense. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton averaged two goals per game in December while starting goaltender Jeff Zatkoff had his worst month of the season.
Zatkoff has a GAA of 3.13 in seven December games after posting a 1.72 GAA through his first 14 starts. Ben Ferriero, brought in to boost the Penguins’ offense, has three goals on 93 shots this season and has one assist in his last 10 games. Eric Tangradi also hasn’t scored in 10 games and is a team-worst minus-10.
Three of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s next five games are divisional matchups, which could spell the difference between being in the playoff hunt and being relegated to the basement.
Surveying the schedule
- Oklahoma City hits the road with a game in Houston Tuesday before heading north to face Grand Rapids Friday, Milwaukee Saturday and Chicago Sunday.
- Abbotsford returns home to host division rivals Rochester in a doubleheader after a tough six-game road trip where they went 1-4-0-1. The Heat are 10-3-2-1 at home this season.