This team has its flaws and soft spots, and most of them have surfaced at some point in the first six-plus weeks of this season.
But it also has some of the game's most gifted and creative players.
And every now and then, those guys make that point to anyone who might have forgotten.
Occasionally, like in the third period of the Penguins' 4-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night at Consol Energy Center, they do it just a few shifts apart.
The Penguins were trying to overcome a 2-1 deficit when Evgeni Malkin, playing in his first game after sitting out four because of a concussion, set the bar of individual excellence with what coach Dan Bylsma called "a great, unbelievable power move."
Malkin stole a pass by Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer in the neutral zone and skated into the right circle, then cut toward the slot and, after knifing between Brewer and defense partner Matt Carle, threw a shot past goalie Anders Lindback to tie the score at 5:38.
"It didn't look like there was any way to get between those two guys," teammate Sidney Crosby said. "And he found a way."
Less than two minutes later, Crosby and Kris Letang found a way to make a run at the standard Malkin had established.
And, in the process, to generate the goal that put the Penguins on top to stay.
Crosby carried the puck across the blue line then gave it to Letang. He took it around the Tampa Bay net before throwing a cross-ice pass to Crosby, who beat Lindback from inside the right circle.
"Mine wasn't quite as nice [as Malkin's]," Crosby said.
Nice enough, though. And certainly more dazzling than the innocuous goal that turned out to be the game-winner.
Right winger James Neal scored that one into an empty net with 51.5 seconds remain in regulation to put the Penguins up by two. His goal became the one that decided the outcome, however, when Steven Stamkos of the Lightning swatted a puck out of the air and past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with eight seconds to play.
The victory raised the Penguins' record to 15-9 and tightened their grip on first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Penguins played their second game in a row without defenseman Paul Martin, who has an unspecified injury, and it looked for a while as if they might lose his frequent defense partner, Brooks Orpik, as well.
Earlier on the shift that ended with Malkin's goal, Tampa Bay center Vincent Lecavalier dropped Orpik with a hit behind the Penguins net. Orpik seemed shaken by the check and angered by the lack of a penalty call, but said after the game that he is not injured.
"He's usually a pretty honest player, so I'll refrain from making comment until I see a replay," Orpik said. "I'm fine. I thought it was a head shot, or interference. Either one. Take your pick."
Chris Kunitz got the only goal of the opening period, as he took a feed from Crosby and beat Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon from the slot.
That goal not only marked the 17th time in 23 games that the Penguins scored first, but established a couple of personal bests for Kunitz. He has at least one goal in each of the past four games and at least one point in six consecutive games.
The Penguins had a chance to pad their lead on a power play early in the second period, but Kunitz, Malkin and Neal each were unable to capitalize on excellent chances near the net.
Garon, who was brilliant on that penalty-kill, left the game with an undisclosed injury shortly after the Lightning returned to even strength.
He barely had made it to the locker room when Stamkos steered a Victor Hedman pass behind Fleury from the front lip of the crease to tie the score.
Tampa Bay moved in front, 2-1, with a strange goal at 11:59.
After Penguins center Brandon Sutter got his stick on Nate Thompson's shot from the slot, the puck struck Tom Pyatt of Tampa Bay in the face before it fluttered over Fleury and dropped into the net.
That was the final puck the Lightning got past Fleury until Stamkos got his second of the game as time was winding down. The Penguins won this game, in large part, because of solid team defense, but it didn't hurt to have guys such as Malkin and Crosby on hand when the outcome was being shaped.
"That's the kind of players they are," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "They're game-changers."mobilehome - penguins
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @MolinariPG. First Published March 5, 2013 5:00 AM