PITTSBURGH – At this point, the Sharks might never want to return to the Bay Area.
Facing what was probably the most difficult opponent of their season-long six-game trip, the Sharks played a complete game in just about every way in getting past the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday at Consol Energy Center, 3-1. It was their fifth straight win overall and sixth in a row on the road.
There was goaltending, as Martin Jones held the fort early and finished with a career-high 38 saves. There was defense, as all three goals came from blueliners, including a pair by Brent Burns and Paul Martin’s first as a Shark. The forward lines were also solid, including Joonas Donskoi taking advantage of his move to the second line in helping to create a pair of goals.
The power play took an 0-for-4, but the penalty kill – despite allowing a goal to Phil Kessel – came through in fighting off five of six Penguins advantages, including the second half of a Joe Pavelski double-minor for high-sticking with the game tied 1-1 in the middle frame.
Finally, there was a gigantic milestone, as Patrick Marleau recorded his 1000th career point with an assist on Burns’ first goal.
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The Sharks are rolling headed into the final game of the journey on Sunday in Columbus.
“We played a pretty strong 60 minutes against a very powerful offensive team with a lot of good players over there,” Marleau said.
Assistant coach Steve Spott, who spoke after the game while head coach Pete DeBoer was away due to a personal matter, said: “With the weapons they have up front, we knew it was going to be a great challenge for us. Our D corps, [and] obviously Jonesy, did a real good job. But our forwards did a good job, too, getting in shot lanes. I liked the amount of shots we blocked tonight.”
The Sharks finished with 22 blocked shots, including five by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who played a whopping 28:55 while partner Justin Braun skated for 28:02 in a season-high for each.
Burns had seven of the Sharks’ 29 shots, scoring on two. His first came on a perfect Joel Ward rebound off of Marc-Andre Fleury’s pad in the first period to open the scoring, while his second was the game-winner, as his blast nicked Rob Scuderi on its way into the net at 13:06 of the second period.
In his last four games Burns has two goals and three assists, along with a 23 shots on goal.
“His blue line play, his ability to pull the puck across the blue line, it might be the best in this league,” Spott said. “He’s got a quick, hard release, and we know that when he has it, let’s make sure we’re getting bodies to the net.”
Martin, Burns’ partner, said: “He scores a lot of the times when he shoots it. You try to give it over to him and he puts it to the net and good things happen.”
As is becoming customary, Jones provided a steady hand. He made key stops on Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz in the first period as the Penguins registered the first eight shots, and late in the game with Fleury pulled for an extra attacker, Jones calmly absorbed shots by Kunitz and David Perron through traffic.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks power past Penguins for fifth straight win]
The upgrade he’s provided in net this season simply can’t be overstated.
“Jonesy kept us in early, which was big,” Martin said. “I think as the game went on we got a little momentum.”
Jones said: “They came out hard but I thought we did a really good job. They were taking a lot of shots, but I don’t think we were giving up any Grade-A stuff. Did a good job weathering the storm a bit and played a pretty solid game from there.”
It’s unclear if DeBoer will be back with the team by Sunday, but Spott was pleased with the way things went behind the bench as he and fellow assistants Bob Boughner and Johan Hedberg handled the team.
“We just wanted to make sure we were business as usual, make sure our meetings were the way they’ve always been, and I give our players a lot of credit. They limited anything that had to do with [DeBoer’s absence], and they were just very, very professional.”
Marleau said: “It was pretty seamless. Obviously we’d like to have [DeBoer] back there, but the coaching staff did a great job.”
So did Marleau, and the rest of the roster.
“[It] was a good team road win for us tonight,” Martin said.