PHILADELPHIA -- Dan Bylsma shrugged and said that no, he just couldn't explain it.
It would be pretty tough to come up with a good reason for the Penguins' sluggish performance through most of the first two periods of a 3-2 loss Thursday night against Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center.
Wasn't hard to figure out what it led to, however, because even an inspired closing kick by the Penguins wasn't enough to salvage a point or two for them.
"We just can't come out flat for two periods and expect to win a game in the third when we're down 3-0 or 3-1," winger James Neal said.
True enough and, as a result, the Penguins absorbed consecutive losses in regulation for the third time this season, had their record slip to 16-9-4 and surrendered first place in the Eastern Conference standings to the Flyers.
"We [threw] away two periods there," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "Played for 20 [minutes], and almost got it back. It shows that we need a better effort for 60."
Especially when they are forced to play with such a watered-down lineup. The Penguins not only were without center Sidney Crosby, who also will sit out the visit Saturday to Long Island as a precaution after suffering a headache following practice Wednesday, but also three of their top six defensemen.
And their thin blue line got thinner by the end of the night.
Defensemen Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek and Deryk Engelland already were unavailable because of injuries, and Robert Bortuzzo departed in the third period because of an unspecified problem.
Bylsma, the Penguins coach, said the severity of Bortuzzo's problem has not been determined, and it is not known if Bortuzzo will be available when the Penguins face the Islanders.
It's harder to predict whether the Penguins will get another five-on-three power play in that game, but, if recent precedent is any indication, there's a pretty good chance they would not take advantage of it.
They squandered two of them in a 3-1 loss Monday night against Boston, then failed to capitalize on a 70-second opportunity with two extra men against the Flyers.
And their advantage was even more lopsided than those numbers make it seem, because two of the Flyers penalty-killers had lost their sticks.
Didn't matter. The Penguins not only failed to manufacture a goal, but Chris Kunitz took a cross-checking minor just as the first of Philadelphia's two penalties expired.
"It was certainly a missed opportunity," Bylsma said.
The schedule-maker definitely had given the Penguins one because the Flyers were coming off an overtime victory Wednesday night in Buffalo. The Penguins, though, didn't exploit any fatigue the Flyers might have had for most of the first 40 minutes.
"When you come out flat in the first two and don't do the things you want to do against a team that played [the previous] night, it's frustrating," Neal said.
"And it's something we need to fix."
Philadelphia opened the scoring for the 13th time in its past 14 home games against the Penguins, but the Flyers never had done it with a double-deflection goal quite like this.
Daniel Briere took a shot from the left point that struck Bortuzzo at the top of the left circle and then hit his defense partner, Brooks Orpik, near the left hash before eluding goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 6:38 of the first period.
Wayne Simmonds of Philadelphia made it 2-0 on a power play at 8:42 of the second, rapping a Jakub Voracek feed into an open net, and the Flyers got the winner at 13:32, when defenseman Andrej Meszaros stickhandled past Orpik, then moved down the right side before setting up Scott Hartnell.
But Neal countered for the Penguins on a man-advantage at 14:10, taking a feed from Evgeni Malkin and beating Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from the bottom of the right circle for his 15th and Malkin got the Penguins within one at 8:21 of the third.
They were not, however, able to generate the goal that could have forced overtime.
"We just couldn't find a way to get the next one," winger Steve Sullivan said.
Just as they couldn't find a way to start the game with the kind of energy and focus that usually is a given when they face the Flyers.
"We have to come out and battle hard," Neal said. "And do the right things."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @molinaripg. First Published December 9, 2011 5:00 AM