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Malkin takes blame for latest defeat

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The struggling scoring champ took the blame for the sliding Stanley Cup champions' season-worst fifth consecutive loss.

"It was my fault," Penguins center Evgeni Malkin said Sunday night after a 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center.

The Penguins were ahead, 2-1, before Panthers center Gregory Campbell poked the puck from Malkin's stick deep in the offensive zone. Panthers winger Radek Dvorak pounced on the puck and shot it past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with 2:25 remaining in the second period.

Florida went ahead for good about a minute later on winger Rostislav Olesz's goal, and the Panthers tacked on three in the third period - including two from Dvorak to cap his first hat trick in seven years.

It only seems like that long since Malkin contributed to a Penguins' victory. Their last win came Dec. 23 at home against Ottawa; Malkin recorded a hat trick in that contest after tallying just twice in nine prior games.

He is without a point in four straight games, one shy of his career-worst regular-season mark, set from Feb. 27 through March 6, 2007.

Malkin is on pace for career lows in goals (27) and points (80) after a 2008-09 campaign in which he paced the NHL in regular-season and postseason points and won the playoff MVP award.

"My game is not good," he said, noting that coach Dan Bylsma has attempted to provide him a spark with several new wingers over the past several weeks. "I don't know why."

Malkin, a minus-4 with eight shots to his credit against Florida, tepidly denied he would play better if his parents were in Pittsburgh. They were for the majority of the second half last season, including every playoff game.

"Maybe," he said, "but I've played before and my parents weren't here - and I played better."

Malkin stressed he "want(s) to play simple," and admitted he is "a little bit nervous" because of his struggles.

Repeatedly stressing he is healthy, Malkin has scored nine goals and 15 assists in 24 games since missing seven straight because of a strained right shoulder.

Teammate and fellow superstar center Sidney Crosby, the Penguins' captain, steadfastly offered defense of Malkin after this loss.

"He's getting chances; he hit two posts (Saturday in a loss at Tampa Bay)," Crosby said.

Crosby, whose 24th goal staked the Penguins to a 2-0 first-period lead after winger Tyler Kennedy snapped a 14-game drought with his seventh tally, went a career-worst five games without a point from Oct. 31 through Nov. 10.

The Penguins (26-16-1, 53 points) went 1-4-0 in those games.

They are 1-6-0 dating to a shutout loss at home to New Jersey on Dec. 21, and Malkin has recorded three goals and an assist over that stretch.

"I don't think he's getting asked so many questions if we win a few games," Crosby said. "That's kind of the natural thing; when you struggle as a player and you start losing, guys like us get looked at. That's fine.

"I don't think he's got to change a whole lot. He's one shot away from being back where he wants to be. He's playing good, and it's just got to go in for him."

Malkin's history is allowing slumps to deflate his confidence. Though playing injured, Malkin openly questioned himself while closing the 2008 playoffs with two goals and five points in the final 10 games.

Bylsma is aware the Penguins likely won't go on a third consecutive deep playoff run if Malkin cannot regain his swagger.

"One of the things he needs to be careful of is looking to get goals and assists to prove he is playing well," Bylsma said. "Geno feels he needs to produce in (big) situations to play well, and he puts some undue emotions on his game that gets him unfocused."

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