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Pacific Division notebook

Ducks forward Nick Ritchie learning, evolving on line with Ryan Getzlaf

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

Anaheim Ducks left wing Nick Ritchie, who is six games from his 100th in the NHL, has been presented with an attractive opportunity.

In four games prior to Anaheim's five-day break that began last Saturday, Ritchie, 21, had four assists, mostly playing on a line with captain Ryan Getzlaf and promising Czech Republic-born right wing Ondrej Kase.

"I had a little bit of an opportunity to play with [Getzlaf] at the start of the season, and that was great," said Ritchie, the No. 10 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. "Now in the last couple of games, I've had the chance again. And I've been pretty familiar with Ondrej, have played with him for a lot of the year.

"Playing with [Getzlaf], well that's a pretty big honor to play with the captain and a player of his level. He's helped the two of us a lot, and there's been some success the last few games."

The Ducks return from their break against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Honda Center on Friday (10 p.m. ET; FS-W, TSN4, NHL.TV).

Ritchie has 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 61 games this season and is enthused by Getzlaf's mentoring.

"He's really good with that," Ritchie said. "He's almost like a personal coach on the ice. He's calling the plays and helping us when we get off on what the play should be. He's got a lot of insight on different things, and he's been really good.

"He's a veteran guy, a leader, a captain and those are some of things he does with the younger guys, and everybody on the team."

Among his 11 goals, Ritchie has scored three game-winners, averaging 13:12 of ice time per game. He has 123 shots on goal, averaging more than two per game.

"I got a chance last year to play just over 30 games and had some ups and downs," he said. "That's tough to come into the NHL and play right away. This year I took another step and became more comfortable and I think it has showed on the ice, the familiarity with different guys, and just getting some games under you is the main thing. Now it's starting to feel really good."

In his rookie pro season of 2015-16, the Orangeville, Ontario, native split his time between the Ducks and San Diego of the American Hockey League. He was recalled four times.

"I was lucky last year," Ritchie said. "You never want to go down, but when you do, you go and work to try to get back up. It has helped me in the long run, I think, and helped me grow as a player this year."

A big bonus for Ritchie is he's able to share the early days of his NHL career with older brother Brett Ritchie, 23, a right wing with the Dallas Stars and also in his first full-time NHL season.

"We talk all the time, stay in touch a lot throughout the season," Nick Ritchie said. "We talk about hockey and things outside of hockey. They've struggled in Dallas a bit this year, but that happens. I don't think it's been an easy thing for him. He's young, too, and I think he's learning a lot and we're kind of going through the same thing and it's nice to have him there, someone who's so close to me going through most of the same stuff."

The brothers have played against each other three times, including the season opener in Dallas. The Stars have won two of three games against the Ducks.

"In Dallas, it was their home opener and they won," Ritchie said. "It was a good game and really cool, the first NHL game against each other. We got on the ice a couple of times together and they had the last laugh in that one.

"Seeing him and playing against him, that was pretty awesome all around."


Home-cooking edge

The Stanley Cup Playoff seeding in the Pacific Division is a long way from being decided at the three-quarter mark of the regular season.

As the calendar turned to March and with less than six weeks left, the San Jose Sharks, Edmonton Oilers and Ducks were 1-2-3 at the top of the division.

And as has been the case all season, schedules are likely to influence the final quarter of the season too.

Who has the edge?

If the balance of home and road games is important, it may be Edmonton.

The Oilers (34-22-8, 76 points) have 18 games remaining. Thirteen are at home, including 11 at Rogers Place in March. Their five remaining road games are the fewest among teams in the Pacific Division.

The Los Angeles Kings (30-27-6, 66 points) are a close second in remaining home-road schedule. The Kings, making up for some earlier brutal stretches that included a nine-game road trip and another string of nine in 10 away from home, have 13 home games and six road games remaining. All of their remaining travel is within the division.

If you consider games on consecutive days more of a factor, then you may favor the Calgary Flames (34-26-4, 72 points), who hold the first wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.

The Flames have no back-to-backs remaining among their 11 home games and seven road games.

The Oilers are next in that area, with two back-to-backs left, including a season-ending home-and-home set with the Vancouver Canucks.

The division-leading Sharks (37-18-7, 81 points) have the most back-to-backs left, with five. San Jose also has its final 20 games in a span of 38 days.

The Kings are next with four back-to-backs.


Stat pack

The Flames have gone back to Brian Elliott as their No. 1 goalie, and that has paid dividends. Elliott, who helped the Flames defeat the Kings 2-1 in overtime Tuesday, has started six of Calgary's past seven games. Since Jan. 26, Elliott is 8-1-1 with a 2.20 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 10 starts. … The most productive offensive players in the division in February were Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, Oilers center Connor McDavid, Arizona Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata and Kings left wing Tanner Pearson. Each had 13 points. Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews led the League with 18. … Burns continues to be among NHL scoring leaders. With 66 points (27 goals, 39 assists) in 62 games, he's tied for third in scoring with Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand behind McDavid with 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby with 67 points (34 goals, 33 assists). And all this with less ice time than last season, an average of 24:54 compared to 25:51 last season.


Games to watch

San Jose Sharks at Minnesota Wild, March 5 (6 p.m. ET; FS-N, FS-WI, CSN-CA, NHL.TV) -- The Wild won the only previous game this season in this potential playoff preview, 5-4 in San Jose on Jan. 5.

Vancouver Canucks at Anaheim Ducks, March 5 (8 p.m. ET; SN, PRIME, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) -- The Canucks complete a three-game road trip with a back-to-back against the Kings and Ducks. Anaheim is 2-0-1 against Vancouver this season with wins of 4-2 and 3-1 and a 3-2 overtime loss on a Henrik Sedin goal at Vancouver on Dec. 30.

Anaheim Ducks at Chicago Blackhawks (March 9, 8:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CH, KCOP-13, NHL.TV) -- Another potential playoff series. The Blackhawks defeated the Ducks 3-2 at Anaheim on Nov. 25 and visit Honda Center for the second-to-last game of the season on April 6.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Edmonton Oilers (March 10, 9 p.m. ET; SNW, ROOT, NHL.TV) -- Two of the game's elite centers, Crosby and McDavid, go head-to-head at Rogers Place. McDavid and Crosby were 1-2 in the League scoring race at the beginning of March.

Washington Capitals at Los Angeles Kings (March 11, 10:30 p.m. ET; FS-W, CSN-DC+, NHL.TV) -- Game No. 4 of the Kings seven-game homestand will be against the League's top team. The Capitals were 5-0 winners in Washington on Feb. 5.

Calgary Flames at Winnipeg Jets (March 11, 7 p.m. ET; SN, NHL.TV) --- Calgary heads into March with big momentum and has a stretch of eight of nine games at home. This is the road game in that span. In this head-to-head series, the home team has won the past seven games.

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