Tomas Hertl scored a pair of first-period power-play goals, Martin Jones stopped 26 shots and the San Jose Sharks took advantage of sloppy play by the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 4-0 victory Thursday night.
Brent Burns picked up his 12th of the season, and Evander Kane added a short-handed goal for the Sharks, who beat Casey DeSmith three times in the opening 14 minutes and kept the Penguins in check the rest of the way to sweep the season series from the team that edged them in six games in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.
The Sharks have won eight of 10 overall to pull within one point of Calgary for the top spot in the Pacific Division.
DeSmith finished with 29 saves, but Pittsburgh stumbled out of the gate and never recovered to lose for just the second time in six games. Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby and coach Mike Sullivan were among a group that earned 10-minute misconducts following a dust-up between both sides late in the third period.
Hertl scored a hat trick in San Jose’s 5-2 victory over the Penguins on Jan. 15 and wasted little time going to work in the rematch. Pittsburgh defenceman Jack Johnson took a penalty for hooking less than a minute into the game, and Hertl gave the Sharks the lead when he pounced on a rebound and lifted it over a sprawled DeSmith 1:44 into the first.
Kane doubled San Jose’s advantage 10:01 into the first when Pittsburgh’s power play — which has careened between dynamic and dreadful all season — made another mistake that ended up in the back of the Penguins net. San Jose’s Burns tipped the puck away from Phil Kessel at the blue line, and Kane chased it down before flipping a backhand between DeSmith’s legs. Kane’s 27th goal of the season was also the 13th short-handed marker allowed by Pittsburgh, the most in the NHL.
Hertl’s 28th goal of the season — the one that pushed San Jose’s advantage to 3-0 just 13:19 into the game — might also have been his easiest. Logan Couture fought off two Penguins to keep the puck in at the blue line, and Hertl retrieved it before passing it to Joe Pavelski in front. Pavelski slipped it cross-ice to Kevin Labanc. Labanc held it for a second — just long enough for DeSmith and Pittsburgh centre Matt Cullen to collide — before passing it back to Hertl, who was just outside the blue paint when he put it into the empty net.
Cullen and DeSmith shook their heads in disbelief while Johnson — who has come under fire recently — angrily fetched the puck out of the net.
The big early lead allowed the Sharks to dictate play, and Pittsburgh’s attempts to get back in it went awry. Evgeni Malkin’s potential breakaway shortly after exiting the penalty box in the second ended when he was chased down from behind by 39-year-old San Jose forward Joe Thornton. Kessel found himself all alone in front of Jones later in the second but inexplicably attempted a drop pass to Malkin instead of getting off a shot.
When Jones stuffed Crosby’s snapshot from in front with just three seconds to go in the second period, the Sharks were firmly in control and Pittsburgh’s chance at its first three-game winning streak since an eight-game run that ended on Jan. 4 was gone.