PITTSBURGH – On Thursday morning, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said that he considered the Sharks the best team in the NHL.
Less than twelve hours later, he might have a different opinion.
The Penguins scored four quick goals in succession early in the second period, and cruised to a 5-1 win over the Sharks on Thursday night at Consol Energy Center. The Sharks gifted them a majority of those goals in the second period, as they saw their six-game winning streak come to an ignominious end.
“Credit to them, they played well tonight, but it was more our mistakes than what they did right, I believe,” Logan Couture said. “We weren’t ourselves. We weren’t moving pucks, we were turning it over through the neutral zone, we weren’t good. I think it was more us than them.”
Todd McLellan said: “I don’t think we established ourselves in a speed game or even in a compete game. They had their nose over the puck a lot more than we did. They fought for ice and they fought for loose pucks a lot stronger than we did.”
Pascal Dupuis’ tip made it 1-0 just 27 seconds after the first intermission, and misplays by Jason Demers, Justin Braun and a bad penalty by John McCarthy resulted in the Penguins increasing that lead to 4-0. San Jose nearly clawed back into the game when Tomas Hertl scored midway through the second, and James Neal’s interference minor shortly after that gave the Sharks a power play.
Rather than cut into the lead further, though, Patrick Marleau was stopped by a diving Marc-Andre Fleury, and Joe Pavelski’s spin-around rebound attempt from the slot slid just wide of the far post. Pavelski’s irritation with the miss was evident, and McLellan immediately demoted the third line center to the fourth line.
“I saw some frustrated players, and with the amount of hockey that we’ve played and that we have to play on this road trip, I didn’t think frustration was a real good emotion to have with two periods left,” McLellan said. “So, we mixed them around a little bit and hopefully saved a little bit of energy for tomorrow, because we didn’t use much tonight.”
The Sharks managed to throw 45 pucks in Fleury’s direction, but still didn’t have many prime scoring chances. Although he made 44 saves, the Sharks were decidedly unimpressed by the goaltender’s performance.
“Stats aside, I don’t think Fleury was that good tonight,” Couture said. “He gave up a lot of rebounds and a lot of shots he looked shaky on. We weren’t able to score on second chances.”
Pavelski said: “He was fighting it all night. It felt like we could have had five. Pucks were bouncing and laying between his legs. There were a couple second opportunities, that there were times you didn’t know how it didn’t go in.”
The Sharks were unable to take advantage of Evgeni Malkin’s absence, as the NHL’s second-leading scorer suffered a lower body injury at the morning skate and missed the game.
“They’re a top notch team, and I think when you lose a guy like Evgeni the other players have to step up and maybe zone in on their game, and it looked like they did that tonight,” Joe Thornton said.
McLellan said: “Full marks to them for a very competitive night, and they took it to us.”