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Penguins

Pens' Malkin handles struggles with humor

| Saturday, Dec. 12, 2009

Evgeni Malkin is giving too much during this holiday season.

"I'm looking to pass, and I need to look for shots," said Malkin, the Penguins' goal slumping superstar center, after practice Friday. "Now is a tough situation for me. I'm not scoring. My game is not good."

A five-game goal drought will follow Malkin into a contest against the Florida Panthers tonight at Mellon Arena. Though second on the team with 29 points, he has tallied in only four of his past 16 games, connecting 5.9 percent of his 68 shots over that span.

Unlike at previous points over his four-year NHL career — remember his flameout in the 2008 playoffs (two goals in the last 10 games)• — Malkin has maintained a sense of humor during this stretch of struggles.

He joked that "even eight shots weren't good enough" Thursday in a win by the Penguins at Montreal, adding that fortune wasn't on his side like it was for winger Pascal Dupuis, who ripped a slap-shot top shelf for a winning goal in the third period.

"I hit the crossbar, and he goes high into the net," Malkin said, smiling. "I'm just not lucky like Pascal, but it's OK. I will be all right."

Kidding aside, Malkin being all right soon was the consensus among his teammates, including Dupuis, who is tied with Malkin and center Jordan Staal for third among Penguins with eight goals.

The Penguins (21-10-1, 43 points) would gladly take 20-goal seasons from Dupuis and Staal. They're expecting a bit more from Malkin, who averaged 38 over three previous seasons.

Dupuis said Malkin "has one of the best shots" in the sport, and putting the puck on net hasn't proven a problem for him. Entering last night, only Malkin and Washington winger Alex Ovechkin had played 25 or fewer games among the 19 players that had registered at least 100 shots.

Only seven of those players were clicking at less than 10 percent shooting efficiency, and at 7.8 percent, Malkin was nearly halfway off his career rate before the season, 14.3 percent.

"My mentality is to make a perfect shot, not just to shoot," Malkin said. "I need to stop that."

He also could take a page from fellow superstar center Sidney Crosby's book, coach Dan Bylsma said, by "having that shooter's mentality and ripping the puck."

Crosby has tallied on 20 of his 109 shots — an 18.3 percent rate that considerably tops his personal best from three seasons ago, 14.4 percent.

"Geno cares deeply and greatly, and he wears it on his sleeve; sometimes in trying to make the right play, he might look to pass when his confidence is lower, and it doesn't look like he has a shot," Bylsma said. "He's a guy who attacks through defenses, attacks the net; and when shooting the puck and attempting to score, he's a better player all around."

Malkin said he is "not nervous" about his limited goal production, insisting he "only need(s) a goal" to regain his confidence."

"I think next game I will score," he said. "After that, I can start feeling better and better every game."

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