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Malkin not backing down from challenge of carrying Penguins

| Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011

Penguins star Evgeni Malkin has no desire to begin the season without Sidney Crosby. Should Crosby, however, not be ready for the regular-season opener Oct. 6 in Vancouver -- and that scenario seems probable -- Malkin isn't backing down from the challenge of carrying the Penguins.

"I think it's not for sure if Sid will start playing at the beginning of the season," Malkin said. "If not, it will be hard. But I think we have a good team. I'm ready."

Malkin has a track record of carrying the Penguins when Crosby has sustained injuries, and he will be called upon to return to his previous form eight months after tearing his ACL against the Buffalo Sabres.

Pronouncing himself to be 100 percent healthy, Malkin said he could have played in the Eastern Conference final last season.

"I worked with (Penguins strength and conditioning coach) Mike Kadar this summer," Malkin said. "We worked hard. It feels pretty good. I've been skating a lot."

Malkin has always been happy to avoid the spotlight that is customary for Crosby. Arguably equal talents on the ice, Crosby has always diligently handled media responsibilities and off-ice duties while Malkin has been more comfortable in the background.

With Crosby's return date from a concussion uncertain, Malkin will be, at least temporarily, the team's face.

"We have 25 good players," Malkin said. "But I think, yeah, (if Crosby is out) it's my team. If he doesn't play, I'll try (to play at) 100 percent. I'll try my hardest."

Malkin was one of 14 Penguins to deliver season tickets to fans' homes and, about to enter his sixth season in Pittsburgh, seems more comfortable than ever when dealing with the public.

"I enjoy it," Malkin said. "It's a good time. I see the fans are happy when we come."

They'll be even happier to see him on the ice for the first time since February.

"I believe in our team," Malkin said.

The Russian star is excited for the start of the season but admits to still feeling somber about last week's plane crash that killed every member of the KHL team Lokomotiv.

"I knew all those guys," Malkin said. "A couple were good friends."

Malkin was close with assistant coach Igor Korolev and player Gennady Churilov, whom he played with on Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

"Good friends," he said. "I feel so bad now. We've tried to help the families and support them. I couldn't believe it. Just stayed home and watched the news."

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