Sharks rally after embarrassingly slow start, still lose to Penguins

The first period started ugly for the San Jose Sharks against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday at PPG Paints Arena, and it only became more unsightly with each passing minute.

Then the second period began.

After allowing six goals in the first 19:32 and trailing by five after the opening 20 minutes, the Sharks got a second-period power-play goal from Brent Burns, and three goals in the first 4:09 of the third period to draw within one.

The Sharks continued to press but couldn’t net the equalizer in a 8-5 loss to the Penguins that has to rank as their wildest game so far this season.

Matt Nieto, Erik Karlsson, and Logan Couture all scored near the start of the third period, and goalie Zach Sawchenko made 19 saves in relief of James Reimer before Evan Rodrigues scored with 2:01 left in regulation time for the hat trick to seal the Penguins’ win.

The Sharks allowed a goal just 1:03 into the first period, three goals in the first 4:11, and six goals in 19:32, as they trailed the Penguins 6-1 after the opening 20 minutes.

In all, the Penguins had six goals on 17 shots on Reimer.

Sawchenko, in his NHL debut, made eight saves in the middle frame. Burns scored his fourth of the season at the 14:27 mark of the second period on a power play as the Sharks trailed 6-2 after two periods.

Bryan Rust also had a hat trick after an empty-net goal with 10.4 seconds to go and Kasper Bjorkqvist and Jake Guentzel both scored once.

Timo Meier had three assists and Jake Middleton added two in the loss.

Alexander Barabanov also scored for the Sharks, as his goal at the 15:33 mark of the first period cut the Penguins lead to 4-1. But Pittsburgh responded with goals by Bjorkqvist at 16:29 and Rust with 28 seconds left in the first period.

The six goals the Sharks allowed nearly established a new team record for goals against to start a game. The Sharks’ record is 19:17, set on Dec. 5, 1995, in a game in Colorado against the Avalanche, as Valeri Kamensky scored twice and Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, and Martin Rucinsky each had one goal.

Sunday’s game was the first of a four-game road trip for the Sharks. Even though the game began at 1 p.m. Eastern Time, an early start for a Sharks team that flew across the country the day before, coach Bob Boughner felt his team had an advantage considering the Penguins were playing their first game since Dec. 19.

The Sharks were coming off a 3-2 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

“The advantage for us, I believe, is that we’ve played a couple of games and we’re playing a team that hasn’t played, so I look at that as an advantage,” Boughner said. “The disadvantage might be a little bit of the travel and the time change, but we got here at a good time last night (5 p.m. ET). Everybody had plenty of sleep.

“We should be able to be a confident team the way we played last game and come out and hopefully dictate the pace a little bit against a team that hasn’t played in a while.”

The Penguins, who had won seven straight games before the NHL paused the season before Christmas, got Rodrigues back from the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol on Sunday, and Rust and Guentzel were activated off injured reserve.

Still, the Penguins had several players unavailable, including goalie Tristan Jarry and forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Jeff Carter, all of whom are still in the protocol. Injured center Evgeni Malkin has yet to play this season.

The Sharks were playing their second game without do-everything defenseman Mario Ferraro, who is in COVID protocol.

“Pittsburgh has been known for a while — and they’re at again this year — of being a very good breakout team,” Boughner said. “For us, we have to rely on making them defend but also, I believe our forecheck could play a big part of this game today.

“If we’re running good routes and putting the pucks in spots where you can get them back, and we’re physical and we have good sticks, that allows you to spend time in the other teams’ end against a team that hasn’t played in a while.”

Please check back for updates to this developing story. 

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