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Sharks Feast on Mistake-Plagued Penguins, 6-4



The Pittsburgh Penguins are playing like they’ve found a surefire formula to avoid losing in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fifth year in a row.

After all, a team can’t get eliminated in the opening round if it doesn’t qualify in the first place.

And the Penguins haven’t looked like a playoff-caliber team very often lately.

They certainly didn’t for much of their 6-4 loss to San Jose at PPG Paints Arena Saturday night.

Sure, the Penguins had gotten at least one point in each of their previous six games (3-0-3), but they haven’t defeated a team currently holding a playoff position since a victory over the New York Rangers Dec. 20.

Of course, beating the Sharks wouldn’t have changed that, since the Sharks are far more likely to end up with an early pick in the NHL Draft than a spot in the Western Conference playoff field.

San Jose also was coming off a soul-crushing 5-4 overtime loss in Carolina Friday night, but that didn’t matter much when the Sharks were facing a team that showed little interest in defensive-zone coverages and other details of the game.

Or, for that matter, much urgency to pick up a couple of points, at least for the first two periods.

The only good news for the Penguins (24-16-9) is that they’re now in their bye week and all-star break, which means they’ll have some time to figure out whether extending their NHL-best streak of 16 consecutive playoff appearances really is a priority during the final 2 1/2 months of the regular season.

San Jose’s Logan Couture broke a 4-4 tie at 15:35 of the third period when Casey DeSmith stopped his shot from close range, only to have Couture appear to make contact with DeSmith’s skate, preventing him from covering the puck.

Rickard Rakell then slid into DeSmith, eliminating any chance he had to prevent the puck from skidding across the goal line.

DeSmith, for what it’s worth, said he was unaware of any such contact by Couture.

“I’m sure that if there was goalie interference, we would have challenged it,” DeSmith said. “I slid over. I had it. I got run into. The puck went in. That’s all I know.”

Couture hit an empty net at 19:50 to close out the scoring and complete his first career five-point game.

The Penguins have been wildly inconsistent in a lot of areas this season, but one thing they’ve gotten pretty good at lately is giving up the first goal of the game.

They did it for the ninth time in the past 12 games Saturday, when Michael Eyssimont was left unchecked in front of the net and threw a shot past DeSmith at 1:25.

The Penguins bounced back fairly quickly, however, as Evgeni Malkin knocked a loose puck past goalie Kaapo Kahkonen from the right side of the crease at 5:45 for his 18th of the season.

Rakell and Sidney Crosby got assists on the goal, which Malkin scored eight seconds after Sharks defenseman Jacob MacDonald was penalized for holding.

Crosby’s assist was his 1,468th career point, moving him past Stan Mikita and into 15th place on the league’s all-time scoring list. It also stretched his scoring streak to seven games.

The Penguins got another power play when San Jose’s Evgeny Svechnikov was sent off for slashing at 12:46, but this one wasn’t quite as successful as the first.

It took them nine seconds, not eight, to capitalize on this one.

Crosby got the goal at 12:55, putting in the rebound of a Malkin shot that caromed off the left post for his 24th. Jake Guentzel got the other assist.

The Sharks pulled even with 6.5 seconds go to before the intermission, as Erik Karlsson was alone in front of the net and tipped in a feed from Alexander Barabanov. Seemed like a fitting way to end a period during which the Pittsburgh Penguins had more than a few issues with defensive-zone coverages.

Malkin picked up an offensive-zone hooking minor at 1:21 of the second, but the Penguins held San Jose without a shot during the subsequent two minutes.

The Penguins’ sloppy play resumed after they returned to full strength, and Noah Gregor put the Sharks in front, 3-2, when he put a Logan Couture rebound past a diving DeSmith. It was the third hockey equivalent of an uncontested layup for San Jose.

The Sharks had the better of play for much of the second and had a chance to double their lead when Guentzel was called for an offensive-zone slash at 14:15, but it was the Penguins who scored while he was in the box.

Brian Dumoulin hit Ryan Poehling with a long pass, springing him on a 2-on-1 break with Brock McGinn. Poehling put a shot between Kahkonen’s legs from just inside the right dot at 14:54 for his fifth.

That tie didn’t last long, however, as Barabanov put a shot through traffic and past DeSmith from the right point at 17:07.

The Penguins started the third period with significantly more intensity than they had shown for most of the previous 40 minutes, but were thwarted by Kahkonen until 10:06, when Malkin beat him from near the right dot for his second of the game. Jeff Petry received the only assist.

Svechnikov was sent off for holding Bryan Rust at 11:35, but the Penguins were unable to take advantage of that power play.

Because of their bye week and all-star break, the Pittsburgh Penguins will not play again until Feb. 7, when Colorado is scheduled to visit PPG Paints Arena at 7:08 p.m. After that, they will play four games in a row on the road, visiting Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and the New York Islanders.