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Fleury, Crosby lead Penguins to victory over Sharks at Consol

| Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, 9:42 p.m.

The Penguins are best against the West.

Sidney Crosby is not sure why, though.

See: the second period Thursday night.

Four goals in about seven minutes busted open a scoreless tie, and the Penguins humbled the San Jose Sharks, 5-1, at Consol Energy Center.

Crosby assisted on three of those second-period goals, doing in a short time what 289 other NHL players have failed to do this season.

Somehow, he was upstaged by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 23 of his 44 saves while the Penguins were befuddling the Sharks with a combination of pace and precision passing.

Fleury acknowledged there is nothing a goalie can do when the Penguins are rolling as they were in the second period.

“Um, try to get some whistles maybe,” Fleury said. “I don't think there's that much because the way we play is so up-and-down.”

General manager Ray Shero's decision not to part ways with Fleury, who has faltered in each of the last four postseasons, has looked like one of his best moves.

Fleury has started 25 of 30 games, allowed two or fewer goals in 16 games and is 16-7-1 with a 2.01 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.

He may have been the Penguins' MVP over the opening two months.

Crosby, though, made a case for his value in the first game the Penguins played this season without his fellow scoring-machine center, Evgeni Malkin (lower-body injury).

Malkin, with 37 points, is the only player within striking distance of Crosby's league-best 41. Despite three scoring titles and five combined top-two finishes, Crosby and Malkin never have finished 1-2 for the Art Ross Trophy.

The Penguins (20-9-1, 41 points) are chasing a more prominent trophy — the Stanley Cup that has eluded them since 2009.

Their history under coach Dan Bylsma suggests they would do well in a Final if they can get there. This was their 43rd victory against the West since Bylsma was hired almost five years ago.

They are 43-15-9 against the West and 24-7-4 at home under Bylsma.

The Penguins are 5-2-0 this season against the West, which had 10 of 14 clubs at or above .500 before Thursday's games.

The West is 104-45-19 against the East.

“I don't know if there's any great explanation for that,” Crosby said. “We try to do the best we can and prepare. When you see a new team that you don't see too often, you probably prepare more than usual.”

Defenseman Brooks Orpik said that would be tough for the Penguins because “our coaches do a great job of having things for us to study.”

“They had a profile for every player (on the Sharks),” he said.

The Sharks (19-4-5, 43 points) had only lost in regulation to Chicago, Boston and Vancouver — the defending Cup and East champs, and a perennial contender.

Wingers Pascal Dupuis (his fourth), Jayson Megna (third) and Chris Kunitz (15th and 16th) scored for the Penguins in their second-period surge. Defenseman Kris Letang added his sixth goal in the third period.

Dupuis' marker was his first in 11 games and only his second in 24 contests.

The Penguins played with three AHL regulars among their bottom six forwards and had winger Jussi Jokinen as the second-line center. They have won five in a row but could use Dupuis finding his 20-goal form from the past two seasons.

However, he did not finish the game against San Jose, and Bylsma said there was no update on his status.

There is something, said former Dallas Stars Matt Niskanen and James Neal, to the Penguins being a tough opponent to play against if not playing against them often.

Kunitz, a former Anaheim Duck, called it a “system thing.”

“I think if teams haven't seen it, it can be pretty challenging,” he said.

Or as Fleury described it, “overwhelming.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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