SAN JOSE, Calif. – Everybody knows Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau can score. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin learned the hard way that the San Jose Sharks’ offensive powers can also play some mean defence when properly motivated.
Joe Pavelski scored an early short-handed goal, Evgeni Nabokov made just 10 saves, and the Sharks stayed perfect at home with a suffocating 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.
Thornton and Marleau lined up against the Penguins’ ballyhooed first line from the opening minutes until the third period, and the Sharks’ scoring stars simply choked the life out of Pittsburgh’s top-heavy lineup. The Penguins’ 11 shots tied the fewest in franchise history and set a new defensive record for the Sharks, who are off to their best 10-game start at 8-2.
“Everybody was coming back and working hard, and we didn’t turn the puck over as much as we have in the past,” Marleau said. “When you do all of that, you can accomplish some good things.”
Mike Grier scored a backhand goal from the slot with 7:08 left in another speedy, smooth effort by the Sharks, who had 34 shots. San Jose’s relentless offensive pressure was at least as important as its defence in smothering the defending Eastern Conference champions.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan has stressed defence in every practice since San Jose followed a wacky 7-6 victory over Philadelphia last week by giving up four goals to low-scoring Florida. The Sharks listened, following up a shutout win over Tampa Bay by coming within 5:33 of another whitewash.
“We’ve had to look ourselves in the mirror when it comes to our defence, and it’s nice to see how they’ve responded,” McLellan said. “I think (Crosby and Malkin) score 60 per cent of their points, their goals. If you can shut those two down, you’re in a good position to have some success.”
Ruslan Fedotenko ended Nabokov’s bid for his 41st career shutout on a setup from Crosby, but Pittsburgh never created any semblance of an offence aside from that opportunistic goal. Pittsburgh managed only 11 shots three previous times, including two games in 2003.
“It’s frustrating, (because) you want to create chances and find ways to put pucks in the net,” Crosby said. “It’s not an ideal situation with some of the guys injured, but that’s part of the game. We have to find ways to score. We can’t accept that. We expect to find ways to win games. … We don’t feel sorry for ourselves, and we don’t want people to feel sorry for us.”
Dany Sabourin made 32 saves in his second start of the season for the Penguins, who lost on the road in regulation for the first time this season (2-1-1). Sabourin rarely sees the ice as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup, but he was mostly outstanding in his second start since Feb. 21.
“They were shooting from anywhere and crashing the net,” Sabourin said. “That’s what they do. That’s what the goalie coach told me before the game, ‘Be ready, they’ll shoot from anywhere and crash the net.’ And that’s what happened.”
San Jose returned from a three-game East Coast road trip with two wins and the Western Conference’s second-best record behind Detroit. With five of the Sharks’ next six games at home, where they’re 5-0, they’ll have a chance to improve on that start, which bested San Jose’s 7-2-1 beginning in 2000-01.
Pavelski scored midway through the first period when Pittsburgh defenceman Alex Goligoski fumbled the puck to Milan Michalek for a breakaway. Pavelski pounded home the rebound for his fourth goal, just the second short-handed score of his career.
San Jose had a 20-5 shot advantage midway through the second period, and Fedotenko’s goal came on the Penguins’ second of three shots in the third. The Ukrainian’s goal also made up for his foolish penalty moments earlier to negate a Pittsburgh power play, allowing Grier to pad San Jose’s lead during 4-on-4 play with his first of the season.
Matt Cooke then took another bad penalty with 1:49 to play when he clocked Pavelski with a high stick, preventing the Penguins from loading up the offensive zone in the closing seconds.
Notes: Pittsburgh scratched C Maxime Talbot with an undisclosed injury. D Hal Gill also sat out his third straight game due to an injured right hand. … The Sharks have outshot opponents 159-71 in the second period. … With C Marcel Goc sitting out again to rest his sore back, LW Jamie McGinn made his NHL debut for the Sharks, but played sparingly on their fourth line. The former second-round draft pick was recalled from the minors on Monday.