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Frustrated Lemaire tries to point wayward Wild back on track

NHL.com @NHL

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -After missing 13 of Minnesota's past 15 games with a nagging strain in his groin muscle, Pavol Demitra is finally due back for the Wild's next game.

That's a start, but it's definitely not a finish.

"Pav's OK. It's the other guys I'm trying to get back," coach Jacques Lemaire said Tuesday after another disappointing practice by his sagging, injured team.

Lemaire has a handful of other players whose health could keep them out of Wednesday night's game against the Phoenix Coyotes, but the other guys he's "trying to get back" have been on the ice. In body, but not necessarily in spirit.

"If they think that with Pav coming back everything will be fine there, that won't be the case," said Lemaire, who pushed the Wild hard for a second straight day and stretched practice for an hour. He spent the last part of the workout urging several of his veterans and most of his core players to give a better, more consistent effort.

"Concentration and focus on what you're trying to do. If they take it lightly or what, I don't know," said Lemaire, who has watched Minnesota slip from 7-0-1, the best start in franchise history, to 12-9-2.

Last season, the Wild started strong in October before star wing Marian Gaborik got hurt, precipitating a November slump. This time, though, Lemaire said the inconsistency has been worse.

Gaborik missed five games with an injured groin muscle, and Mikko Koivu hasn't yet skated since a two-handed slash from Vancouver Canucks defenseman Mattias Ohlund cracked a bone in his leg on Nov. 16. Tough guy Derek Boogaard (back spasms), and defensemen Kurtis Foster (broken cheekbone) and Petteri Nummelin (head injury) are also hurt and unexpected to skate against Phoenix. Oh, and alternate captain and center Wes Walz is still on personal leave.

While Minnesota's depth has been stretched, however, the players who have avoided injuries have not been doing their part. General manager Doug Risebrough was disgusted enough to make seven transactions on Thanksgiving Day, including the claim of tough guy Todd Fedoruk off waivers.

"It's something we've just got to work through," said wing Mark Parrish, who will move to the first line on Wednesday with Gaborik while Demitra plays out of position at center.

"He's been out for awhile, and we can't just sit there and give him the puck and assume he's going to be 100 percent and flying," Parrish said.

The good news for the Wild?

Parity in the Western Conference has allowed them to stay tied for third place in the overall standings.

"Everybody's in the same boat," said second-line center Eric Belanger. "Everybody's going to have their tough times, and I know fully that as soon as we get everybody back we're going to be OK for the rest of the year."

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