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Sharks grab hold of first place in the Western Conference

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — From not even close to best in the west in just 10 weeks.
The Sharks moved into first place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference on Monday, leapfrogging the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets with 75 points by earning a 7-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. With the win, the Sharks completed their four-game road swing through Western Canada with a perfect record.
The Sharks move into the Western Conference’s penthouse puts an exclamation mark on a remarkable turnaround that started on Dec. 2 after the Sharks got thumped by the woeful Ottawa Senators in Erik Karlsson’s homecoming to his “forever city.”
Earlier in that trip, Logan Couture said the Sharks weren’t even close to being in the Stanley Cup conversation following a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 28. Now, they’re at the forefront of those talks, posting a 22-6-2 since Dec. 2, leading the NHL in scoring by averaging 4.23 goals per game during that span.
The Sharks current six-game winning streak is even more impressive considering that the team is playing without Karlsson, who missed his eighth straight game on Monday with what head coach Pete DeBoer is calling a “muscle injury” in his lower body. The Sharks are 7-2-1 on the season without Karlsson.
Joe Thornton continued to leave his imprint on the NHL’s record books on Monday. By setting up Kevin Labanc’s fourth goal in two games at 17:30 of the second, Thornton collected his 1,050th career helper, passing Gordie Howe to move into ninth place on the NHL’s all-time assists list. In the process, he also tied Teemu Selanne for 15th place on the NHL’s all-time scoring list, picking up his 1,457th career point.
Evander Kane stayed red hot, as well, scoring two more goals to give him 26 on the year, 15 since Jan. 1, which is tied for tops in the NHL, and five on the Sharks four-game road swing through Western Canada.
Kane’s linemate, Tomas Hertl, also made his presence felt, scoring his 26th in the second, his fourth goal of the trip.
Joe Pavelski became the 10th NHL player to score 30 goals this season, reaching the mark at 14:05 of the third.
Timo Meier is hoping to join Kane, Hertl and Pavelski in the hot-scorers club. He opened the scoring just 1:04 into the game, recording just his second goal in 23 games after starting the season with 18 in 30 games.
Melker Karlsson also got in on the fun, showing his health by worming his way onto the goal sheet. Melker Karlsson, who left Saturday’s win over the Edmonton Oilers with an apparent shoulder injury, scored his ninth of the season by redirecting a Brent Burns shot from the point in the first.
Burns and Couture each collected a pair of assists while Hertl and Melker Karlsson recorded multi-point games by picking up helpers to go along with their goals. Fourteen of 18 Sharks position players found their way onto the scoresheet as the team exploited 19-year-old netminder Michael DiPietro, who was making his NHL debut.
DiPietro got the start because No. 1 goalie Jacob Markstrom is sidelined with lower-body tightness and backup Thatcher Demko suffered an injury last week.
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Bo Horvat scored the Canucks first goal with 6.4 seconds left in the first. Derrick Pouliot added a goal in garbage time in the third. Martin Jones made 25 saves on 27 shots, improving to 8-1-1 against his hometown team.
The Sharks will return to action at SAP Center on Thursday, kicking off a three-game homestand against the Washington Capitals.
 

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