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Malkin, Penguins frustrated by losses, lack of offense

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin said Monday that any frustration he feels is solely because of how the team is playing.

Malkin clarified comments he made Saturday after the Penguins' 4-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils that made it sound like players were angry at each other.

"It's a little bit not what I want to say. It's not mad at each other," he said. "We're a pretty tight team. We support each other. But I mean, when [nothing works] in a game like New Jersey, we start to get a little bit frustrated with each other. It's a little bit new for us. It's a new team. It's not like me and [Sidney Crosby] or whoever [are mad at each other]; it's just the game. We don't like how we play."

There are some things to be frustrated about. The loss was the Penguins' third in four games (1-3-0) since winning nine of their previous 10 (9-1-0). They are 27th in the NHL with an average of 2.06 goals per game, and the power play is 29th at 12.3 percent.

The Penguins' defense is a big reason they've started the season 10-7-0. They're fourth with 2.18 goals-allowed per game, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has a 2.01 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.

Following a closed-door meeting after the loss to the Devils, Malkin said, "We're not playing right. We're not working hard. We're mad at each other. We need to just stop and look in the mirror."

Crosby said he spoke with Malkin about his comments from Saturday and echoed Malkin's stance that they were taken out of context.

"I talked to [Malkin]. I think the way it was taken was much different than what he meant to say," Crosby said. "If you're talking about him saying guys are mad at each other, I don't think guys are mad at each other. That's not the impression I get. I think guys are frustrated that we're not doing better. It doesn't mean we're mad at each other and there's a divide in the room. I don't know what he said today, but from talking to him he did not mean to say 'mad at each other.'

"I think we all believe in one another and ultimately we all feel the same. We're all frustrated. We feel we can do better and expectations are high, so I don't see that being a bad thing."

Part of the scoring drought is a lack of production from Crosby and Malkin. Crosby is on pace for nine goals and 42 points this season, Malkin for 19 goals and 57 points. When made aware of those numbers, Malkin said he was not surprised.

"I don't think about that now because the team plays bad and I don't see my points and I don't see my numbers," Malkin said. "I just want my team to win."

Crosby reiterated much of what Malkin said, and added he thinks the Penguins will respond well.

"I think knowing the group and how much everyone cares, we're going to react the right way," Crosby said. "We're going to respond the right way and the expectations are high, but a lot of teams would love to be in our position and still feel like we can do better. I think it says a lot about the guys. The expectations are high and we expect more. But with that said we still have a winning record and we've done some good things.

"So some teams may try to sweep that under the rug and try to say they're playing well when they're not. I see that as being a pretty good thing, to recognize that and try to do better."

Much discussion centered on the Penguins' anemic power play. Coach Mike Johnston has tried several different formations, including splitting Crosby and Malkin between the two units to begin the season, and against the Devils on Saturday.

But there has been no consistent answer while Pittsburgh has experienced lengthy scoring droughts with the man-advantage, including failing to score on its first 17 opportunities of the season.

The Penguins have said they need to get more traffic near the opposing goal. They've also said they need to get more pucks on net. They've done neither, and failed on a combined 13 power plays in their past three games.

"We had a couple good chances but we didn't score," defenseman Kris Letang said. "You have the facts. You saw the same thing I did. So you know the answer."

Dating back to a sluggish end to 2014-15 season, the Penguins have not performed like the high-powered offensive team they once were. Johnston said Pittsburgh would like to score more, but primarily is focused on winning.

"We are in the entertainment business, but part of the entertainment is winning," Johnston said. "That is the bottom line. That should be the bottom line for us as coaches, as players, ownership. It's all about winning. It's all about finding ways to win games."

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