PITTSBURGH -- It was 22 years to the day that the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks met for the first time. The result that night was an 8-0 drubbing of the Sharks by the Penguins. The Sharks did not fare much better Thursday night, allowing four second period goals before falling to the Penguins 5-1.
"The disease in our game was there in the first (period), it just hurt us in the second," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan.
Left winger Chris Kunitz tallied twice and center Sidney Crosby contributed three assists to lead Pittsburgh to the win despite being without superstar center Evgeni Malkin due to a lower-body injury.
The Sharks came into the game winners of six straight. Meanwhile, the Penguins increased their own winning streak to five.
For two teams that had not met since 2011, the game featured several intriguing story lines. The game was a match-up between two 19-win teams. The game marked the 500th NHL game for Crosby and the 900th for Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle. It also marked the return to Pittsburgh for San Jose center Tyler Kennedy, who spent the first six years of his career with the Penguins.
"It's definitely different, a lot of emotions, but I've moved on and San Jose is my team now," said Kennedy.
After a scoreless first period, the Penguins got on the board early and often in the second. Just 27 seconds into the frame, right winger Pascal Dupuis reached out with one hand on his stick and tipped in a wrist shot from defenseman Brooks Orpik.
Just over two minutes later, the Penguins struck again when left winger Jayson Megna unleashed a laser of a wrist shot from the bottom of the left wing circle that beat Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi through an opening on his right side. Center Joe Vitale played a vital role in the goal by driving hard to the net and taking the defenseman with him, allowing Megna to skate in unobstructed.
"(Vitale) made a great middle lane drive and I think the defenseman read I was looking pass, because I was, and he kind of went to our two guys and kind of left me with an open lane to shoot," said Megna.
The Pittsburgh onslaught continued at 5:27 of the third when Crosby grabbed a backhand pass from left winger James Neal and threw a shot on Niemi that deflected off his pads and to the feet of Kunitz, who managed to sneak behind both San Jose defensemen. Kunitz then kicked the puck up to his stick, went around Niemi, and deposited a backhander into the net. The goal extended Kunitz's points streak to a season-high six games.
"I think what he does is underappreciated, especially in terms of how he does it at the net front ... he plays in hard areas in hard minutes," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "He's not a big-body guy but he's a force."
Kunitz made it 4-0 when he notched his second of the period just seconds into a power play at 7:30 when he snapped a shot just under the crossbar. Crosby picked up his third assist on the goal to increase his lead in the NHL scoring race over idle teammate Malkin.
"That's Sid. That's what he does. He takes control of the game," said Kunitz.
The Sharks finally solved Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at 9:27 of the second when center Tomas Hertl threw what seemed to be a harmless shot from the right-wing boards toward the Pittsburgh net. The shot appeared to hit the stick of Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland before sliding between the pads of Fleury. Despite throwing 24 shots at Fleury in the second period, Hertl's shot was the only one that got past the Pittsburgh netminder.
Niemi was pulled to begin the third, but the result was the same. Only 3:30 into the period, Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang took a snap shot from the right point that found its way past the glove hand of new Sharks netminder Alex Stalock to give the Penguins a commanding 5-1 lead.
Fleury made 44 saves to earn his 16th win, while Niemi was tagged with the loss, turning aside 23 Pittsburgh shots in two periods of work.
NOTES: Penguins RW Pascal Dupuis left the game with an undisclosed lower-body injury and will be re-evaluated on Friday. ... The game featured the NHL's two winningest goaltenders since the start of the 2011-12 season. Pittsburgh G Marc-Andre Fleury has recorded 81 wins in that span, while San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi won 74. ... Pittsburgh RW Chuck Kobasew returned to the lineup after missing 17 games with a lower-body injury. ... Sharks C Tyler Kennedy played in his 400th career game. ... The Penguins' 341 first-period shots are the most by any Eastern Conference team. ... Three players on the current Sharks roster were drafted in 1997 at Pittsburgh's Civic Arena -- C Joe Thornton, LW Patrick Marleau, and D Scott Hannan. C Tomas Hertl was also drafted in Pittsburgh at CONSOL Energy Center in 2012. ... Scratches for the Penguins were C Evgeni Malkin (lower-body), C Zach Sill and D Robert Bortuzzo. Scratches for the Sharks were RW Mike Brown, RW Matt Pelech and D Matt Irwin.