Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save on Sharks center Andrew Desjardins in the second period.
Peter Diana / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sharks goalie Antti Niemi makes a save in traffic against the Penguins in the first period.
Peter Diana / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Penguins winger Chris Kunitz scores over top of Sharks goalie Antti Niemi as Penguins winger James Neal looks on in the second period at Consol Energy Center.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A single game -- no matter how compelling, no matter how convincing -- proves nothing, of course.
A 60-minute snapshot simply isn't enough of a sample size to formulate any major conclusions.
So the Penguins' 5-1 victory Thursday night against San Jose at Consol Energy Center doesn't necessarily mean that they would survive a best-of-seven series against the Sharks if the teams would happen to, say, collide in the Stanley Cup final in the spring.
And goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's 44-save effort doesn't guarantee that he would consistently elevate his game and neutralize one of hockey's most volatile offenses.
And Sidney Crosby's three-assist performance doesn't assure he could be counted on to put up multiple points in every game if the Penguins and San Jose were to meet in the postseason. OK, maybe it does.
But the Penguins' bloated margin of victory shouldn't be construed as evidence of their superiority to the Sharks.
"I don't know if the score [reflected] how good of a team they are," left winger Chris Kunitz said.
Probably not, even though the victory was the Penguins' fifth in a row and raised their record to 20-9-1, good for first place in the Eastern Conference. The regulation loss was just the fourth for the Sharks, who are 19-4-5 and did nothing to tarnish the respect the Penguins have for them.
"They're good," Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "They forecheck really hard -- you could see that they had us bottled up a few times -- and they have big [defensemen] who are pretty mobile for how big they are. They're tough to play against."
While few people likely anticipated the Penguins winning by four goals, even fewer likely foresaw the postgame assessment of Fleury's performance offered by San Jose center Logan Couture.
Turns out that while San Jose coach Todd McLellan believed that, "Fleury made some really good saves," Couture wasn't particularly impressed.
"We didn't bear down on our chances," he said. "Stats aside, I don't think that Fleury was that good. He gave up a lot of rebounds, and on a lot of shots, he looked shaky on. We weren't able to score on second chances."
Couture wasn't the only Sharks player who felt that way, either. Teammate Joe Pavelski said Fleury "was fighting it all night. It felt like we could have had five."
Perhaps Couture and Pavelski concluded that Fleury simply wasn't quick enough to get out of the way of the 44 pucks that hit him.
Fleury was caught off guard by those critiques -- "I don't know," he said. "I felt good" -- and his teammates predictably played up his contribution to their victory.
"Even though it was a big score, it didn't really feel like that," Crosby said. "[Fleury] deserves a lot of credit for how he played.
"Over 40 shots and they had some good chances. He was a big part of why we won."
So, as usual, was Crosby. After recording multiple points in his 100th, 200th, 300th and 400th NHL games, he kept the pattern alive in No. 500.
Crosby helped to set up three of the four goals the Penguins scored on Sharks goalie Antti Niemi in the first 7½ minutes of the second period.
"That's Sid," said Kunitz, who scored the third and fourth of that cluster. "That's what he does. He takes control of the game."
The only significant negative for the Penguins was that they played the second half of the game without right winger Pascal Dupuis, who adjourned to the locker room with an unspecified injury shortly after deflecting a Brooks Orpik shot past Niemi 27 seconds into the second period, breaking a 0-0 tie and sparking the Penguins' four-goal run.
The Penguins already were deploying a somewhat diluted lineup, as Evgeni Malkin was held out of the game because of an unspecified injury that has led to him being listed as day-to-day.
Dupuis, whose injury will require further evaluation, according to coach Dan Bylsma, is the latest addition to an group of injured players that also includes top-four defensemen Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi.
"To not have [Malkin] and then to have [Dupuis] leave the game, every guy had to step up," Crosby said. "And we did that."
Did it with only a few lapses, too. Against an elite opponent that had won its previous six games.
"It's good to know that we can put together a good 60 [minutes] against the best team in the league right now," Niskanen said. "That's satisfying. But it's one game. Don't read too much into it."
Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @MolinariPG.
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