PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The San Jose Sharks kept coming at Marc-Andre Fleury. From the point. From the left circle. From the right circle. From the slot. From right in front of the net.
The more shots the Sharks fired at the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie, the more creative he became. A pad here, a stick there. Fleury even found a way to make a few of his 44 stops while doing an impersonation of a snow angel in a 5-1 victory Thursday night.
“When they don’t go in, it’s fun,” Fleury said with a laugh. “It makes you feel more a part of the action.”
Of course, getting staked to a massive lead helps.
Chris Kunitz scored twice during a four-goal outburst early in the second period as Pittsburgh won its fifth straight. Pascal Dupuis, Jayson Megna and Kris Letang also scored for the Penguins, who snapped San Jose’s six-game winning streak. Sidney Crosby added three assists in his 500th career game to push his point total to an NHL-leading 42.
Despite the lopsided outcome, the Penguins weren’t exactly ready to call it a statement of any kind. It is December, after all.
“I don’t know if the score dictated how much of a good team they are,” Kunitz said. “It’ll maybe settle down the next time we play them. It’s going to be probably a closer game, but it’s nice to be opportunistic and score those goals.”
Pittsburgh rolled despite playing without star Evgeni Malkin, scratched after sustaining a lower-body injury during the morning skate. Dupuis left early in the second period with a lower-body injury and did not return. He will be re-evaluated Friday.
The Penguins cruised anyway while handing the Sharks just their fourth loss in regulation this season.
Tomas Hertl got his 14th goal for San Jose. Antti Niemi made 23 saves but was pulled after two periods.
“It was more our mistakes than what they did right,” San Jose forward Logan Couture said. “We weren’t ourselves. We weren’t moving pucks. We were turning it over. In the neutral zone we weren’t good. I think it was more us than them.”
The Pacific Division front-runners hardly looked like the team that came in leading the league in goal differential and had outscored opponents 24-12 over its last six games.
All that momentum came to a grinding halt during a frantic second period.
Dupuis deflected a slap shot from Brooks Orpik by Niemi just 27 seconds in to give Pittsburgh the lead. Megna made it 2-0 just more than 2 minutes later when his wrist shot from the left circle zipped over Niemi’s right shoulder at the end of a 3-on-2 break for his third goal of the season.
Kunitz kept up the barrage at 5:27 when the Sharks turned it over in their own end and the puck ended up on Crosby’s stick. Niemi stopped Crosby’s wrist shot but Kunitz flipped the rebound into the wide-open net.
Kunitz struck again barely 2 minutes later when he buried a loose puck by Niemi for his 16th goal of the season and fifth in his last six games.
“I think what (Kunitz) does is underappreciated, especially in terms of how he does it at the net front,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “He plays in hard areas in hard minutes. He’s not a big-body guy, but he’s a force.”
The Sharks kept Fleury busy but had trouble finding holes. Hertl made it 4-1 at 9:27 of the second when his centring pass from the bottom of the left circle deflected off a Pittsburgh skate and between Fleury’s legs.
San Jose got no closer. Letang beat backup Alex Stalock with a slap shot from just inside the blue line 3:30 into the third to push Pittsburgh’s advantage to 5-1 as the Sharks stumbled in the second game of a four-game road trip.
The loss spoiled forward Tyler Kennedy’s homecoming. The centre spent six years in Pittsburgh, scoring three game-winning goals during the Penguins’ run to the 2009 Stanley Cup and earning minor folk hero status for his perpetually scruffy beard and knack for delivering in big moments.
Kennedy, traded to San Jose last summer, received a loud ovation following a brief video tribute midway through the first period. It was a rare highlight for the Sharks, who were never in it over the final 35 minutes.
“I don’t think that’s our team out there tonight,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think we played very well, myself included. We’ve got to be better.”
NOTES: The Penguins are 16-1 when scoring first. … San Jose D Dan Boyle played in his 900th career game. … The Sharks scratched F Mike Brown, F Matt Pelech and D Matt Irwin. … In addition to Malkin, the Penguins also scratched F Zach Sill and D Robert Bortuzzo. … San Jose plays in Carolina on Friday. Pittsburgh travels to Boston on Saturday.