Okay, so it ain’t exactly “the Streak,” when the Penguins went a dismal 0-39-3 in Philadelphia over an infamous 15-year stretch. But the black and gold extended its winless skein in San Jose to 10 games (0-8-2) on Thursday night with a heartbreaking 4-3 shootout loss at the Shark Tank (HP Pavilion).
In many ways the contest brought out the best—and the worst—in the 2011-12 Pens. During a sizzling first period the Steel City sextet thoroughly dominated San Jose while putting on a clinic in puck-possession hockey. Over the final 45 minutes, however, the Pens were unable to cope with the Sharks’ size and strength, turning the slot in front of Marc-Andre Fleury into a veritable shooting gallery.
The Penguins blitzed the somnambulant Sharks from the opening face-off. Firing on all cylinders, they struck twice in the first two minutes on goals by Deryk Engelland and Evgeni Malkin to chase San Jose goalie Antti Niemi from the net. Playing arguably their finest 20 minutes of the season, the Pens attacked in a blur of speed and precision while piling up a 15-4 edge in shots.
Seeking to turn the tide, rugged Ryane Clowe engaged Engelland in a spirited scrap just six seconds into the second period. Suddenly, the ice began to tilt in favor of San Jose. At 2:37 Patrick Marleau cut around Kris Letang with a burst of speed and snapped the puck over Fleury’s glove. The Pens responded seven minutes later when Malkin notched his second goal of the night (and fourth of the season) to cap off a spectacular five-man rush.
Thanks to the brilliant play of Fleury, who made a pair of sparkling saves on Martin Havlat and Clowe, Pittsburgh held the surging Sharks in check until midway through the third period. But with 10:49 remaining Clowe gathered in a pretty pass from Havlat and roofed a backhander to pare the Pens’ lead to one.
Awash in a sea of puck-hungry Sharks, the fading Penguins were unable to keep San Jose at bay. At 15:06 Michal Handzus shook off a check by Malkin behind the net and fed the puck to Jamie McGinn, who beat Fleury from the doorstep to knot the score at 3-3. The Pens had a chance to reclaim the lead moments later, but Matt Cooke banged the puck off a goal post.
Following a wide-open overtime the game went to a shootout. Fleury stoned the Sharks’ first two shooters—Logan Couture and Dan Boyle—but was unable to stop Clowe, who steamed down the slot and ripped the puck home on the stick-hand side. Rookie Thomas Greiss—who did a superb job in relief of Niemi—thwarted Letang, Malkin, and Pascal Dupuis to earn the second point for the Sharks.
“We started off great but we didn’t finish with the result we wanted,” Engelland said. “We got away from our game in the second and third.”
Malkin picked up three points to earn the No. 2 star … Geno registered his first two-goal game since Dec. 10, 2010 … Fleury made 34 saves in a losing cause … The Sharks dominated the face-off circle (39-25) … Ben Lovejoy left the game in the second period with a broken wrist … Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy, Steve MacIntyre, Zbynek Michalek, Jordan Staal, and Brian Strait were scratches.
The Penguins (8-3-3) wrap up their road trip with a game against Los Angeles (6-4-2) at the Staples Center on Saturday. The Pens trail the Kings (59-69-19) in the all-time series.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.