UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Penguins won't know until sometime today whether center Sidney Crosby will be able to play against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum tonight.
He has had an apparent hip problem -- per new NHL guidelines, the Penguins steadfastly refuse to divulge any meaningful information on injuries -- since a 4-1 loss in Phoenix nine days ago and was troubled by it enough yesterday that he sat out practice, although he did participate in some power-play work before the regular session.
Nonetheless, Crosby traveled with his teammates and plans to join them in the morning skate.
"We'll see how he's going to feel [today]," coach Michel Therrien said. "So far, he's been good enough to play those games since he got hurt. I hope he's going to be there again [tonight]."
Crosby is ultracompetitive and, given the choice, he would prefer to play rather than watch from the press box. And if he needed any additional incentive to dress tonight, there is the matter of his career-long success -- 10 goals and 25 assists in 20 games -- against the Islanders.
Still, there's no guarantee he'll be in the lineup, even if it's only because a decision is made that it is in his and/or the team's best long-term interest for him to take the evening off.
And even if the Penguins have their first-line center, and he's able to perform at something close to 100 percent, they do have a few other causes for concern. A season-long penchant for blowing late-game leads is again prominent on that list.
Their 5-4 victory Thursday against Edmonton, when the Penguins impressed while building a 5-0 lead then imploded en route to giving up four unanswered goals, is the latest bit of evidence that this group might lack a killer instinct.
"If we lose our focus, not-good things are going to happen to us," Therrien said.
Hard to argue that, but bad things happen to the Islanders even more frequently than they do to the Penguins.
Going into last night's games, New York was tied with Florida for the fewest points in the league (9) while ranking 25th in average goals allowed per game (3.46) as well as average goals scored (2.62).
What's more, the Islanders are being outscored, 31-15, while playing five-on-five, and their power play is converting just 15 percent of its chances.
Aside from a better-than-average penalty-killing unit that has a success rate of 85.7 percent, which is identical to that of the Penguins, and has scored a league-leading six short-handed goals, the most striking thing about New York's 4-8-1 record might be that it easily could be worse.
Especially when it is considered that goalie Rick DiPietro, the Islanders' marquee talent and franchise cornerstone, is expected to be out of the mix for about another month while recovering from knee surgery.
"He's obviously one of the better goalies in the league," Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "He's a leader on that team and, arguably, their best player."
It's easy to suspect New York is in danger of overdosing on adversity, especially when it also seems to have developed a severe allergy to protecting leads, but the Islanders defeated the New York Rangers and Columbus earlier this week.
Those games reinforced the belief that it would be folly for the Penguins to think that picking up a couple of points tonight will require nothing more than for them to arrive in time for the faceoff.
"There are no 'gimme' games," winger Matt Cooke said. "There are no easy games. It's the National Hockey League. If you don't come ready to play every night, any team can beat any team."
The Penguins were on the flip side of that bit of wisdom in 2005-06, when they were all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by midseason. That experience gives them a particular appreciation of the danger the Islanders pose to unsuspecting opponents.
"A couple of years ago, that's the situation we were going through and, toward the end of the year, a couple of teams thought, 'Well, maybe we go into Pittsburgh and it's an easy two points,' and before you know it, we had a win or a tie," Scuderi said.
"It may not have been a lot for them, but when you don't respect a team, sometimes it comes back to bite you."
Matchup: Penguins at New York Islanders, 7:08 p.m. today, Nassau Coliseum.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Dany Sabourin for Penguins. Joey MacDonald for Islanders.
Penguins: Are 5-5-2 in past 12 visits to Long Island. ... C Evgeni Malkin has nine-game points streak. ... LW Max Talbot does not have an assist in his past 20 games.
Islanders: Are 3-4-1 in one-goal games. ... C Mike Comrie does not have goal in nine games. ... Are 2-7-1 against Eastern Conference teams.
Hidden stat: Islanders are 1-6-1 when D Mark Streit gets point.
First Published November 8, 2008 5:00 AM