Penguins struggle against the West again, get shut out by Sharks
Perhaps it’s a good thing the Pittsburgh Penguins play their next 10 games against teams from the Eastern Conference.
They haven’t gotten anything to show from their recent matchups against the best the West has to offer.
The Penguins have lost just twice in their past six games, and both defeats have come against Western Conference powers. The latest was a 4-0 setback to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Five days after losing to the Pacific Division-leading Calgary Flames at home, the Penguins fell behind early and never caught up against the Sharks, who have the second-most points in the West.
“You’re going to have nights like tonight when it doesn’t go your way,” said coach Mike Sullivan, who received a game misconduct with 4 minutes, 36 seconds left after seven penalties, including four misconducts, were issued to the teams. “The most important thing is we respond the right way to those situations.”
The next chance will come Saturday in the outdoor Stadium Series game in Philadelphia. Like the previous four teams the Penguins have beaten, the Flyers sit outside the playoff picture.
“I think we look at it as it’s an important two points. You don’t want to string together losses,” said Sidney Crosby, who received one of those misconducts and had his six-game point streak snapped. “You’ve got to be able to bounce back. We did some good things. We made a few mistakes early, and they were big ones.”
This one was decided in the first period, when the Penguins gave up two power-play goals and a short-handed goal. The Sharks added another power-play goal late, scoring on a 5-on-3 advantage.
Tomas Hertl, who had a hat trick against the Penguins in a Jan. 15 meeting in San Jose, scored twice, and Evander Kane added a short-handed goal in the first.
Casey DeSmith allowed four goals on 33 shots. Sharks goalie Martin Jones stopped all 26 shots for his second shutout of the season.
“We still had some chances to get back in it through the second and third,” Crosby said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get that first one to get us going and back in it.”
Special teams weren’t the only issue for the Penguins. Patrick Hornqvist has gone 14 games in a row without a point, and Phil Kessel hasn’t scored a goal in his past 11.
With 56 seconds gone in the first, the Penguins faced their first test when Jack Johnson was sent off for tripping.
“It snowballed from there,” Sullivan said.
In the blink of an eye, the Sharks turned the man-advantage into a 1-0 lead. Hertl lifted a puck past a sprawling DeSmith, finding the upper-right corner.
The Penguins got a power-play chance midway through the period, but Brent Burns poked the puck off Kessel’s stick. Kane pounced on the puck and had nothing but open ice in front of him.
Kane skated in alone on DeSmith. The goalie made the initial stop, but Kane tapped it through DeSmith’s pads on a second effort to put the Penguins in a 2-0 hole.
It was the 13th short-handed goal allowed by the Penguins, the most among NHL teams.
Zach Aston-Reese was penalized for tripping with 8:05 left in the period, and the Sharks took advantage of a turnover in the Penguins’ end to play tic-tac-toe in front of the goal. With Matt Cullen diving toward the net and the Sharks, Kevin Labanc slid the puck to Hertl, who poked it into the open goal for a 3-0 advantage.
“We gave them what in my mind was three fairly easy goals,” Sullivan said. “It’s hard to overcome that.”
In the second, Jones stopped Kessel on a pad save a minute into the period, and Joe Thornton stalled Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway when he was sprung from the box after serving a penalty. Late in the period, Kessel had the puck on his stick near the crease but didn’t attempt a shot. Jones stopped Crosby point-blank with 3.4 seconds left and the Penguins on a power play.
Despite some quality chances, the Penguins opened the third period by going seven minutes without a shot. Kessel missed a chance to cut into the deficit when he whiffed on an attempt to the right of the cage.
The boiling point was reached with 4:36 left. During the scrum, Crosby tussled and exchanged shoves (and a punch or two) with San Jose’s Brenden Dillon and Micheal Haley.
“It’s frustration,” DeSmith said. “Those guys are doing stuff to them. If they don’t like it, they have every right to go after them. Late in the game like that, those situations kind of happen, especially when frustration levels go up.”
The Penguins hope the only thing that goes up Saturday in Philadelphia is their points total. With 71 points, the Penguins are just two ahead of Columbus for the final berth in the East.
“You have to turn the page in a hurry and move forward,” Cullen said. “We are extremely frustrated with this one and disappointed with this one. We don’t have any time to sit and dwell on it.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .