The Pittsburgh Penguins needed a victory Saturday night.
Didn’t matter how or where they got it, or who they got it against.
After all, when a team loses six of its first nine games, it can’t be picky about the details associated with picking up a couple of points.
Still, the Penguins had to be pleased — or, at least, a bit relieved — that Game No. 10 on their schedule was against San Jose, which had lurched to a 0-9-1 start, was coming off a 10-1 defeat by Vancouver and had been all but formally eliminated from playoff contention by Halloween.
It was an opportunity on which the Penguins could not afford to pass … and they didn’t.
They mauled the Sharks, 10-2, at SAP Center in a game reminiscent, at times, of some from the early 1990s, when the Sharks played in the Cow Palace and were abused by the likes of Mario Lemieux and Kevin Stevens on a regular basis.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan made a couple of personnel changes: He put Vinnie Hinostroza at right wing on the fourth line, replacing Jeff Carter, and deployed P.O Joseph, a healthy scratch for the previous five games, on the left side of the No. 3 defense pairing, opposite Ryan Shea.
The game was Erik Karlsson’s first in San Jose since the Sharks traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Aug. 6, and he marked the occasion by picking up an assist 90 seconds into the first period.
Karlsson slid a cross-ice pass to Reilly Smith, who beat San Jose goalie Mackenzie Blackwood from above the left circle through a Jake Guentzel screen for his fifth of the season. Guentzel got the second assist on the goal, which came on the Penguins’ first shot of the game and was scored while Sharks forward Anthony Duclair was serving a penalty for roughing Karlsson 49 seconds after the opening faceoff.
Although the Penguins failed to build on their early momentum — they had just two shots in the first 12-plus minutes — Smith made it 2-0 at 12:55, punching in a shot from the right side of the crease after Marcus Pettersson threw the puck there from the left side. The second assist went to Bryan Rust.
San Jose had a 5-on-3 power play for 51 seconds late in the period, while Guentzel and Pettersson were serving minors, but were unable to beat Tristan Jarry.
The Penguins nearly got a third goal off a sequence that was strikingly similar to the one that led to Anaheim’s game-winner late in regulation Monday, as Kris Letang sprung Pettersson on a breakaway as he exited the penalty box, but Pettersson failed to get his shot past Blackwood.
Guentzel made it 3-0 with his third of the season and 200th in the NHL at 3:21 of the second, as he drove to the net and steered in a Rust feed from the right-wing boards. Joseph got the second assist.
Hinostroza piled on by banking a shot off Blackwood and into the net from behind the goal line at 4:26. The goal was his first of the season — this was, after all, his 2023-24 debut in the NHL — as well as the first scored by a member of the Penguins’ fourth line.
The Sharks finally countered at 7:04, when Duclair drove a shot past Jarry from near the right hash while Sidney Crosby, who was appearing in his 1,200th NHL game, was serving a hooking penalty.
Duclair’s goal seemed to annoy the Penguins, because they scored twice in the 53 seconds that followed.
Evgeni Malkin got his sixth of the season by beating Blackwood from the inner edge of the right circle at 9:12, off assists from Smith and Rickard Rakell, and Letang tossed in a backhander from close range at 9:27 for his first. Letang’s goal was made possible by a sublime assist from Crosby, who fed him a backhand drop pass.
San Jose coach David Quinn replaced Blackwood with rookie Magnus Chrona after Letang’s goal, but that didn’t have much impact on the course of the game.
The fourth line, having been made aware that it’s allowed to manufacture an occasional goal, struck again at 11:53, when ex-Shark Matt Nieto knocked in a Noel Acciari rebound to swell the Penguins’ advantage to 7-1.
The Penguins’ rampage continued after the second intermission, as Bryan Rust scored on a backhander from the slot 49 seconds into the third for his sixth goal of the season and fourth point of the night.
San Jose trimmed the Penguins’ lead with its second man-advantage goal at 9:20. Hinostroza was in the box for hooking when Sharks defenseman Jacob MacDonald hammered a shot past Jarry from the center point.
Malkin negated that with his second of the game during a power play at 11:02, setting up at the right edge of the crease and swatting in a feed from Smith, and Guentzel got the Penguins into double-digits at 12:10 by sweeping in a puck that was loose in the crease.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Sunday — their arms could use the rest after being raised so many times Saturday night — and will practice Monday at 3:45 p.m. Eastern in Anaheim, where they will face the Ducks Tuesday night.