Sharks present ‘different challenges’ for Crosby, Penguins
The only game the Pittsburgh Penguins have lost in their past five occurred against Calgary, the team with the most points in the Western Conference.
The team with the second-most points in the West, the San Jose Sharks, present the latest challenge on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Not to diminish the four wins and eight points the Penguins have accrued in their recent hot stretch, but they didn’t exactly come against the NHL’s elite. Victories against the Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils all came against teams on the outside looking in at the league’s playoff picture.
The Sharks are a step up in competition.
“I think it’s a game you get excited for,” Sidney Crosby said. “It’s going to be a good matchup. They present a lot of different challenges. You have to make sure you bring your best. That’s what you expect this time.”
The Sharks are third in the NHL in goals (the Penguins are fourth), yet have thrived without a player ranking in the top 20 in scoring. Six players, however, have gotten at least 50 points, led by defenseman Brent Burns’ 65.
The Sharks also boast some of the NHL’s most skilled blue liners in Burns and Erik Karlsson.
“They generate a lot of offense from their defensemen,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “They are great transition guys, they join the rush, they wrap up on the offensive blue line.”
In the first meeting, the Sharks skated away with a 5-2 victory Jan. 15 in San Jose. After Kris Letang opened the scoring for the Penguins, the Sharks responded with four unanswered goals and held a 4-1 lead until deep in the third period.
“I don’t think we were as ready for that as we would have liked,” forward Bryan Rust said. “We’d like to come out with a little bit better of a start. We would like to push the pace more and play a little bit quicker, play in their face.”
With 22 games remaining, the Penguins are third in the Metropolitan Division with 71 points and are three points ahead of Carolina for the eighth playoff spot. The Sharks have 78 points, which trails only Calgary’s 81 in the Pacific Division.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .