A healthy Sidney Crosby
is essential if the Pittsburgh Penguins
plan to break out of their recent funk with a winning streak. Whether he will be for today's NHL on NBC game (12:30 p.m. ET) against the first-place New York Rangers
at Mellon Arena is still in up in the air.
Crosby suffered a lower body injury late in the third period of Wednesday night's 6-3 loss to Washington when he was bumped hard into the boards by Capitals center David Steckel
. He did not return to the game or participate in Thursday's practice.
The Pens' captain decided to give it a go Friday at the morning skate prior to Pittsburgh's home game against Anaheim later that night, but after twirling around for 20 minutes he hopped off the ice, visited with the trainers and promptly ruled himself out.
"It didn't feel good," Crosby said after the morning skate Friday. "That was the first time I skated since it happened. No go."
The Penguins wound up beating Anaheim 3-1 without No. 87. It was their second win in three games, but only their third in their last 11 and eighth in their last 23.
The win, thanks to a pair of goals from Matt Cooke
and a strong effort by Marc-Andre Fleury
and the entire defense, certainly felt good. However, the question marks surrounding the defending Eastern Conference champs still remain.
Forwards Max Talbot and Pascal Dupuis
and defensemen Rob Scuderi
and Kris Letang
also sat out Friday's game. Coach Michel Therrien
said after Saturday's practice that Crosby Scuderi and Letang will be game-time decisions, while Dupuis, Talbot and defenseman Brooks Orpik
, who went down with an undisclosed injury Friday night, will not play.
"Sidney looked not too bad today," Therrien said. "We have to be really cautious. His decision tomorrow will be a game-time decision. If he wakes up and comes to the rink (and) feels good, he’ll play. If he doesn’t feel good, we’ll wait."
There's no morning skate because of the early starting time, so Crosby will test his knee during the pre-game skate to see if he can play.
"That's what it's going to come down to," Crosby said. "There were a few things I didn’t feel great at, but that is a part of injuries and stuff like that. I still need to make sure I'm comfortable playing a game."
The Rangers, who are already 3-0 against Pittsburgh this season, don't have such issues. Not only have they found some consistency to their game, they've done it with no injuries to speak of.
While Pittsburgh has lost 185 man games due to injury, including 46 by defenseman Sergei Gonchar
, who has missed the entire season with a shoulder injury, New York has lost only 10 games and currently has no one on injured reserve.
Moreover, the Rangers are winning games in, dare we say, a Devilish fashion. Sorry Ranger fans, but it's true.
Save for a 6-3 disappointment against the Montreal Canadiens
on Jan. 7, the Rangers have played lights-out defensive hockey this month. In seven games, they have allowed more than two goals only the one time. They shut out Pittsburgh 4-0 at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 5, arguably their most complete performance of the season.
On Friday night the Rangers got an overtime winner from captain Chris Drury
to beat Chicago 3-2 at the United Center. Their discipline eluded them as they committed 12 penalties and gave the Hawks 11 power plays, but the Rangers killed 10 of them.
If they can beat the Penguins on Sunday, they'll return from a five-game road trip with nine of a possible 10 points. They come home Tuesday to play Anaheim before the All-Star break.
"That's the way we were winning in the beginning of the year, squeezing out one goal games," Rangers second-year defenseman Marc Staal
told NHL.com. "We had about 10 in a row like that. We were playing really solid defensively and when we do that Henrik will make the big save we need if we do falter a bit. The way we have played the last few games is the way we win consistently. We have to continue to do those things and hopefully the wins will keep piling up."
It's unlikely the Penguins, even if Crosby is unable to play, will take a page out of the Rangers' book. They're more of an offensive-minded squad, which only adds intrigue to Sunday's game.
Will the Rangers' defensive approach be good enough, or will the Penguins find a way around it?
At this point, the Penguins don't care much about how they win games as long as they win them. They're right at the edge of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, and they don't want to get into a fight to the finish.
"The season is getting shorter by the day and we have to start making some ground," Cooke told NHL.com. "I was in Washington last year and to have to push so hard at the end to make the playoffs you put yourself in a tough position going in. We really don't want that."
They thought they were going to get over the hump Tuesday night when they played one of their most complete games of the season in Philadelphia and beat the Flyers, 4-2, but then came Wednesday's 6-3 thumping at the hands of the Capitals.
The Penguins welcome a team that is not only playing well, but one they haven't beaten in three tries yet this season.
"One win should be enough (to get you going), but you can't keep winning one and losing two," defenseman Ryan Whitney
told NHL.com. "You have to put a streak together. That's our goal."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com