The Penguins knew going in that anything could happen in this game.
They also had to realize there was little reason to believe that it would.
Not when they were playing at Consol Energy Center, where they had won 10 games in a row, and were facing the New York Islanders, who had lost 13 consecutive games here.
Not when the Penguins were hoping to move into first place in the Eastern Conference, while the Islanders were staring at the very real threat of formal elimination from the playoff race.
And surely not if they had known they would set a season high by launching 54 shots on goal, or 29 more than New York would generate.
But history didn't matter. Neither did statistics.
Not when the Penguins, whose success is built on a foundation of sound defense and attention to detail, were guilty of so many bad decisions, and so much sloppy execution in a 5-3 loss Tuesday night to the Islanders.
"It's been probably six games, maybe, if you look at the goals-against, the chances-against, we've been giving up way too many," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I guess it's our approach going into games -- outscore rather than out-defend teams.
"If we come in with the mentality to out-defend, I think we'll be fine. With the personnel that we have, I think we'll get our chances. We're just playing too open right now. The way we're playing is kind of 50-50."
The loss dropped the Penguins' record to 47-23-6 and kept them in fourth place in the conference. They trail the first-place New York Rangers by three points.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has covered up more than a few lapses by his teammates, had one of his few off performances this season, and managed to squeeze a bad month into 40 minutes of work.
He not only allowed five goals on 18 shots, but left the game shortly after teammate Paul Martin ran into him in the slot just as Frans Nielsen of New York was about to score his second of the game at 18:08 of the second period.
Fleury, who had been struck in the jaw by a shot on a Islanders power play a few minutes earlier, absorbed a blow to the side of the head in the collision with Martin.
Fleury spent the third period on the bench and said after the game that he was "good," and that he had been replaced by Brad Thiessen strictly because of his performance.
"I left in five in two periods," Fleury said.
Coach Dan Bylsma made the same point, saying that "Marc was fine and not dealing with any [concussion-like] symptoms or anything, in that regard" and that "we did not pull him for health reasons."
While Fleury had a game he would prefer to forget -- not that he was hoping for a blow to the head to make that easier -- his sub-par showing hardly was the Penguins' only issue.
"We have to play the right way," said winger Pascal Dupuis, who stretched his career-best scoring streak to 11 games. "We're not happy at all."
New York grabbed a 1-0 lead at 3:12 of the opening period, as a shot by defenseman Dylan Resse, an Upper St. Clair native, glanced off the left post and back boards, then went to Nielsen, who was in the right circle and flipped it into a largely open net.
Michael Grabner made it 2-0 with five seconds to go before the intermission, when his shot from above the left circle glanced off Fleury's glove and into the net.
"I think it might have been [going] wide," Fleury said. "It hit the tip of my glove."
The Penguins regrouped before the start of the second, and tied the score on goals by Tyler Kennedy (1:42) and James Neal (4:10), but the Islanders went in front to stay when Kyle Okposo beat Fleury on the glove side from the top of the right circle.
David Ullstrom put New York in front by two with a power-play goal at 15:20, and Neilsen raised the lead to 5-2 when he scored with just under two minutes to go.
Although Neal picked up his second of the game on a four-on-three power play at 15:42 of the third -- it actually was a five-on-three situation, because Thiessen had been replaced by an extra attacker -- the Penguins could get no closer.
And probably didn't deserve to.
"We're just not playing the right way lately," Orpik said. "Some nights you get away with it, and some nights you don't. Against the better teams, you won't, that's for sure."
And obviously not against the Islanders, either.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published March 28, 2012 4:00 AM