Quick Bites: Special teams, Jones thwart Penguins

The Sharks forced the Penguins into losing their cool and notched four special teams goals.

As rumors of the Sharks trading for a goaltender (maybe Ryan Miller?) float around just in case Martin Jones craps out in the playoffs, Jones made a case to keep himself in the starting slot. Jones stopped all of the shots he faced last night, going a perfect 26 for 26 and the Sharks beat the Pittsburgh Penguins handily by a score of 4-0.

Better yet, the Sharks got under the Penguins’ skin, especially captain Sidney Crosby. A little gamesmanship by Evander Kane had a frustrated Penguins squad ready to fight in the third period. Kane dropped the gloves and sparred with Tanner Pearson.

Meanwhile, Brenden Dillon, Marcus Pettersson, Crosby,and the Sharks’ newest acquisition Micheal Haley all got into a shoving match. All four were tossed from the game and each received a 10 minute misconduct. Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan was also tossed by the officials.

As for the game, the Sharks were dialed in from the drop of the puck. Per Natural Stat Trick, at 5-on-5 and adjusted for score and venue, the Sharks took control of the puck from the get go and really gave the Penguins little chance to wrest back control.

I’m no expert, but I have to wonder if last night’s game has the Penguins thinking about making another move before the trade deadline. According to Natural Stat Trick, the line of Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi really dominated the Pens with a 63.63 percent Corsi For at score- and venue-adjusted 5-on-5.

But it’s the play of Joe Thornton that really has me thinking. Jumbo’s 61.50 percent Corsi For at score- and venue-adjusted 5-on-5 shows his third line was much better than the matchups he faced against the Penguins. You’ll remember that in the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals, it was the Penguins’ third line led by Phil Kessel that skated circles around the Sharks. Thornton could play that spoiler role in this year’s playoffs and the Penguins got a taste of that last night.

Most of the scoring happened in the first 14 minutes of the game. Things started off on the power play. Strong work in the Penguins’ zone led Pittsburgh's Jack Johnson to take a tripping penalty just 56 seconds into the game. The Sharks wasted no time on the power play and Hertl scored his first of the night.

Kevin Labanc picked up the puck off the faceoff and passed it off to Brent Burns at the point. Burns rifled a shot at the goal and Casey DeSmith made the initial save. Hertl picked the rebound up and waited for DeSmith to commit before beating him far side. 1-0, Sharks.

Less than 10 minutes later, it was the Penguins’ turn on the power play. Dillon went off for cross-checking. The Sharks had killed off most of the penalty when Burns tipped the puck at the blueline as the Penguins tried to enter the Sharks’ zone. Kane got to the puck first and he was off to the races. He went five-hole on DeSmith and while DeSmith got a piece of it, the puck trickled through and it was 2-0, Sharks.

At the 13:19 mark, Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese took a tripping penalty. On the ensuing power play, Hertl put in his second of the night.

The goal was thanks to a pretty passing play. Joe Pavelski tapped the puck to Labanc. DeSmith over-committed and was out of position when Hertl moved to the slot in front of the net, all alone. Labanc put it right on Hertl’s stick and No. 48 had an easy tap in. 3-0, Sharks.

The period ended with the Sharks leading and there was no scoring in the second period, despite how hard the Penguins tried. Pittsburgh took nine shots in the second period and Jones stopped them all.

In the third, it was more of the same and a frustrated Penguins squad started to get testy. Kane took advantage and tempers boiled over.

After the game, Kane said it all started when he took a peek at their playbook (1:02).

“I think they were about to pull their goalie, so I was just checking out the play they were running because I could see their board pretty clearly. And I guess they didn’t like that very much and they wanted to take exception and I was happy to oblige,” said Kane after the game.

The peek led to a laundry list of penalties. Kane and Pearson both got five for fighting. Dillon, Pettersson, Crosby and Haley all received 10 minute misconducts and were told to hit the showers early. The Penguins’ head coach, Sullivan, had some choice words for the officials about the matter, so he was also ejected.

Off the faceoff, Phil Kessel was called for high-sticking and the Sharks received a power play. Just a few seconds later, Kris Letang took a cross-checking penalty, giving the Sharks an almost full two-man advantage.

That’s when Burns put the game out of reach for the Pens.

Thornton tapped the puck to Erik Karlsson (you really think I could go an entire write up without mentioning his name at least once?) at the point and he quickly fed it along to Burns. Burnzie put it top shelf and made it 4-0.

With the game decided, Evgeni Malkin decided he might as well end his night a little early too. He received a game misconduct with a little over a minute left to play in the game for running his mouth at the officials.

The Sharks now have 80 points for the season. That’s one point behind the Calgary Flames, who currently hold the top spot in the Pacific Division and second overall in the league.

The Sharks’ road trip continues in Columbus on Saturday. It’s a 2 p.m. Pacific start, so be ready with coffee.