Pittsburgh Penguins

Sharks cough up puck, game to Penguins

Sharks cough up puck, game to Penguins

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH  — Evgeni Malkin got his 12th career hat trick and Bryan Rust scored two goals as the surging Pittsburgh Penguins rallied for a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.

Malkin's 24th goal of the season late in the second period tied it. His 25th early in the third gave Pittsburgh the lead for good and his 26th rolled into an empty net with just more than a minute remaining as the Penguins won for the eighth time in 10 games.

Matt Murray stopped 40 shots in his first start since the death of his father, James, this month.

Brent Burns and Logan Couture scored power-play goals for the Sharks but San Jose dropped its second straight game without Joe Thornton, who is out indefinitely with a right leg injury.

Martin Jones finished with 26 saves but also gave the puck away behind the San Jose net in the third period. Patric Hornqvist intercepted Jones' sloppy clearing attempt and fed it in front to a streaking Malkin, who had little trouble putting it into an open net 6:01 into the third.

Rust, hindered by injuries this season, doubled Pittsburgh's advantage 13:58 into the third thanks to a pretty between-the-legs drop pass from Tom Kuhnhackl before Malkin finished off Pittsburgh's sixth straight home victory.

The Penguins returned from the All-Star break looking to build off their best extended play of the season, which has lifted the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions out of a funk and back into the thick of the packed Metropolitan Division race.

It's a surge they've made largely without Murray, who took a leave of absence after his father died on Jan. 16. Casey DeSmith and Tristian Jarry filled in capably with Murray out, but the 23-year-old let coach Mike Sullivan know he was ready to go as his team began what it hopes is a push toward another long playoff run.

Murray certainly looked sharp in his first start since shutting out Boston on Jan. 7, keeping the Penguins in it as San Jose dominated play for long stretches.

Rust's first goal since Nov. 27 on a slick backhand that slid by Jones gave Pittsburgh the lead 11:09 into the first, but the Sharks used a pair of power-play goals in the second to surge ahead. Burns slipped a wrist shot from the point through traffic to tie it at the game's midway point and Couture pounded home a rebound 18:35 into the second to put San Jose in front.

With time winding down in the second, Phil Kessel went to the corner and fed a blind backhand pass to Malkin, who ripped it by Jones with just four seconds left to even the score and give the Penguins a serious boost.

NOTES: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby got an assist on Malkin's empty-netter to extend his point streak to 10 games. ... Malkin played in his 754th career game, passing Jean Provonost for fourth-most in franchise history. ... The Sharks scratched forward Jannik Hansen, C Daniel O'Regan and D Tim Heed. The Penguins scratched D Chad Ruhwedel, D Matt Hunwick and forward Ryan Reaves. ... Pittsburgh went 0 for 3 on the power play. The Sharks were 2 for 5 with the man advantage.

UP NEXT

Sharks: Continue their five-game road trip Wednesday in Detroit.

Penguins: Host the Washington Capitals on Friday.

Sharks have tall task against Penguins, who are in Stanley Cup form

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USATSI

Sharks have tall task against Penguins, who are in Stanley Cup form

The Sharks witnessed firsthand the emergence of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native Nathan Mackinnon as a legitimate superstar in a loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. Naturally, their reward is to face the NHL's first superstar from the area on Saturday. 

And of course, much like Mackinnon, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is playing some of the best hockey of his career. 

In 2018, no player has scored more points than the three-time Stanley Cup champion (15). In fact, three of the top five scorers in the new year skate in the Steel City: Evgeni Malkin is tied for third with 13 points, and Phil Kessel is right behind him in a tie for fifth with 12 points. 

The trio has powered the Penguins to a three-point lead on the Eastern Conference's final Wild Card spot. As recently as New Year's Eve, though, the Penguins were seventh place in the loaded Metropolitan Division, and three points back of the postseason. 

It was always a matter of 'when' rather than 'if' Pittsburgh would turn it on. Fatigue was always a possibility, as the back-to-back champions have played at least 13 more postseason games (49) than any other team in the league over the last two seasons, but any concerns seem firmly in the rearview mirror at the moment. 

The same cannot necessarily be said about the Sharks, whom the Penguins dispatched in six games in San Jose's first Stanley Cup Final appearance. Yes, they've won three out of four since the bye week, but haven't played all that well in the process.

Two of those wins came against the lowly Coyotes, and San Jose has barely out-possesed their opponents (50.74 five-on-five corsi-for percentage; 51.22 fenwick-for percentage, according to Corsica Hockey). They're scoring nearly a goal more per 60 minutes of five-on-five play (2.69) than before the bye (1.85), but are allowing nearly one-and-a-quarter more goals (3.58 five-on-five GA/60) than before the bye week (2.24).

The latter is, at least in part, because Martin Jones is not playing well. The Conn Smythe-like form that kept the Sharks in it against the Penguins two Junes ago has largely eluded him this season, and injury may have played a part. 

Jones is day-to-day with a minor injury, according to the Bay Area News Group's Paul Gackle, and the team recalled goaltender Troy Grosenick from the San Jose Barracuda on Friday as a result. That leaves Aaron Dell in net as the last line of defense against the Penguins. 

With Pittsburgh looking a lot like the team that celebrated a Stanley Cup win on San Jose's home ice two postseasons ago, stopping them will be a tall task. 

Trump honors Penguins at White House: 'True champions and incredible patriots'

Trump honors Penguins at White House: 'True champions and incredible patriots'

WASHINGTON -- After adding to the uproar over NFL players who protest during the national anthem, President Donald Trump mostly stuck to hockey in honoring the Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, calling them "true champions and incredible patriots."

Trump welcomed the Penguins into the Oval Office and celebrated their second consecutive championship in the East Room of the White House. He singled out the achievements of playoff MVP Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, among others.

Trump has grabbed a number of sports headlines in recent weeks, including his criticism of NFL players for kneeling during the anthem and his decision to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from the White House for the type of championship visit made by the Penguins, the New England Patriots and the Chicago Cubs along with Clemson football team.

"Everybody wanted to be here today," Trump said of the Penguins. "And I know why."

Hours after tweeting that the tax code should be changed to punish NFL teams over the anthem issue, Trump joked that Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle should help him renegotiate NAFTA but largely avoided any talk about other sports.

"It's been an honor to have them all here," Trump said.

Crosby has said on multiple occasions that the team's decision to go to the White House was not politically motivated. Coach Mike Sullivan said the Penguins understand the circumstances of their visit and that he didn't feel like Trump was using them as a political prop.

"We've stated clearly from the get-go that our visit to the White House is not political," Sullivan said. "Nobody's choosing a side. Nobody's taking a stand. We are simply honoring our championship and the accomplishments of this group of players over this season or the last two seasons."

Of the 18 players who won the Cup last season and are still with the Penguins, seven are American: Kessel, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Chad Ruhwedel and Conor Sheary. Crosby and six others are Canadian, two are Swedish, one is Russian and one is Finnish.

Trump congratulated the Penguins for being the first back-to-back Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998, complimented co-owner Mario Lemieux's golf game and drew boos when he referenced Pittsburgh's upcoming game against the rival Washington Capitals. He said he expected the Penguins to be back at the White House next year.

"This is really a truly great group of world champions," Trump said. "That's what they are. They're world champions."

Sullivan, the only member of the team who spoke to reporters after the visit, said "zero" politics came up with Trump behind closed doors.

Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown, one of 18 black players in the NHL, became the first hockey player to engage in an anthem protest when he raised his fist while standing on the bench before a game Saturday night. Sullivan said he wouldn't have a problem if one of his players took a knee during the national anthem.

"We're very respectful of anyone's right to protest or demonstrate as they see fit," said Sullivan, who is American. "We're very respectful of it."

The Penguins had one black player on their championship team, Trevor Daley, but he signed with Detroit in the offseason and did not travel to Washington because the Red Wings were playing in Dallas. They currently have one black player, Ryan Reaves, but he and others acquired over the summer who didn't win the Cup also did not go to the White House.

Trump has called on NFL owners to fire players who don't stand for the anthem and urged fans to boycott games in a series of tweets. He tweeted that he instructed Vice President Mike Pence to leave a game between the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts on Sunday if there were any anthem protests, which Pence did.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told The Associated Press recently that said he respects players' views on political and social issues and "people are going to have to decide what makes them comfortable." Bettman said social issues "are a matter of individual belief and individual choice."

Sullivan also said the team presented Trump with an undisclosed gift.