Hockey, conventional wisdom holds, is a game of mistakes.
Makes perfect sense in a sport that is so fast, so physical.
But there were times in the Penguins' 6-5 shootout victory against Toronto Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center when they made it look as if it were a game of almost nothing but mistakes. The Penguins were guilty of glaring ones. Grievous ones. Even a few grotesque ones.
"[The first half of the game] was so bad," center Sidney Crosby said. "There's no real way to describe it."
Fact is, the Penguins strung together enough gaffes, giveaways, breakdowns and mental lapses over the first two periods that a loss seemed inevitable. Probably should have been, too. But it wasn't.
Not even when Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was yanked from the game early in the second period and replaced by rookie Jeff Zatkoff.
Not when Toronto built a 4-1 lead.
Not when the Maple Leafs got a goal with less than five seconds remaining in the second.
That's because, at least in part, Toronto failed to generate a shot in the third period or overtime.
"It's easier to play when you get a lot of shots, as long as they're not Grade A chances," Zatkoff said. "But I'll take that, for sure."
The Maple Leafs didn't fare any better in the shootout. Zatkoff denied Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson, while Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scored for the Penguins.
The victory ended the Penguins' 0-1-1 stumble and raised their record to 16-9-1. It wasn't easy, though, and no one would accuse the Penguins of making it look that way. A sampling of their blunders:
* With the score tied, 1-1, in the middle of the first, Toronto's Nazem Kadri beat Fleury from inside the right circle. The catch: Kadri's goal capped a three-on-one break and came when the Penguins -- who weren't supposed to be short-handed -- had only four skaters on the ice. The lone defenseman out there was Deryk Engelland, who was partnering with Olli Maatta.
* On the first shift of the second period, Fleury tried to give the puck to defenseman Kris Letang behind the Penguins goal line, only to have Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk swat the puck away from Letang. It was headed toward the back boards until Fleury got a piece of it and kicked it back to van Riemsdyk, who deposited it in the net 13 seconds after intermission.
* Zatkoff had been in the game 29 seconds when Bozak bumped Letang off the puck in the Penguins' end and threw a pass to Phil Kessel, who buried a shot from the left hash.
* When the Penguins were pressing to get back into the game in the middle of the second, they had a goal that would have sliced Toronto's lead to one disallowed because Malkin hit the puck with a high stick.
* With 4.9 seconds left in the second and the Maple Leafs ahead, 4-3, Bozak jammed a rebound past Zatkoff from the right side of the crease to cap a sequence that began when a pass by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik was intercepted in the neutral zone.
Any of those foul-ups could have been enough to cost the Penguins the game. That they survived all of them and came away with a couple of points borders on remarkable.
"I think I had the worst shift of my life at the beginning of the second," Letang said. "We had four guys on the ice for a goal. There was a ton of things that [happened] during that game."
The night began well enough for the Penguins, as two players just recalled from their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre collaborated on a goal less than two minutes into the game. Andrew Ebbett capped a strong shift by sliding a cross-ice pass to Chris Conner, who beat Jonathan Bernier at 1:57.
Toronto, pulled even on a power-play goal by van Riemsdyk, who deflected in a Dion Phaneuf shot at 5:09, eight seconds after Penguins defenseman Simon Despres was penalized.
That sparked four unanswered Toronto goals, but the Penguins regained their equilibrium when Malkin beat Bernier on a power play at 8:27 of the second and Letang got a man-advantage goal at 15:20 when Phaneuf tipped his shot past Bernier.
The Penguins forced overtime after James Neal scored on a five-on-three power play at 3:46 of the third and Malkin pushed Bernier's pads over the goal line, then did likewise with the puck, at 7:41.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.