Roles are reversed

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

ST. PAUL -- Dull is out.

Just three years removed from being named the NHL's top coach and guiding the Minnesota Wild to the Western Conference finals, Jacques Lemaire and his team will be on the outside looking in when the regular season ends. Hockey purists will rejoice at that.

Lemaire's usually tried-and-true trapping tactics have failed to get it done this season for the Wild, who haven't scored enough goals - they faced the Edmonton Oilers last night with 216 goals - to win often enough.

They're playing out the string.

"I would say every player has to be accountable. Every player has to play the best he can until the end," said Lemaire, when asked what's at stake for the Wild now. "It's always been like that and it will stay like that."

While critics insist watching the Wild play is about as exciting as watching paint dry, Lemaire's stifling defence-first strategy was good enough for 95 points in 2002-03 and a ride to the conference final.

After slipping to 30 wins and 83 points in 2004-05, Minnesota went into last night's game with 35 wins, but just 77 points, which isn't close to good enough to crack the top eight in the Western Conference.

"When teams have a really tough season and they get to the end, if their season is really bad and there are problems internally, then you're going to have guys who just can't wait for the end," Lemaire said.

"That is not our situation. We look at our season, there's a few goals missing here and there to be on par with teams fighting for a playoff spot."

In a post-lockout era where offence is stressed, the 60-year-old Lemaire is philosophical about this season's struggles.

"We're not that far away," said Lemaire, whose team had lost 26 games by one goal. "It's not a team that has been destroyed. "We've had some good things happen."

With five wins in seven meetings against the Oilers going into last night, the Wild wouldn't be in nearly as tough shape in the standings with a more steady diet of games against Edmonton. Then again, when Lemaire's team did make the playoffs, the Wild couldn't beat the Oilers for trying.

"That's the way it goes," shrugs Lemaire. "You play against certain teams and you have a hard time beating them, then it turns around.

"In the past, we'd play them and we couldn't get a win. We'd always get toward the third period and they came up with the right goal, the right play and the right bounce to beat us. Now it's us who are doing it. It's not that we've played that much better than they are. That's the way the game goes."

BAD BOYS

Oilers media relations men J.J. Hebert and Patrick Garland spent much of Wednesday evening touring around town in a St. Paul police department cruiser.

Not because they were busted for anything untoward -- although Hebert's suits and haircut qualify as a misdemeanour in many states -- but because former Wild stopper Dwayne Roloson arranged for the Oilers dynamic duo to ride along with a member of the police service's K-9 unit.

"The city was a safer place," quipped Hebert after he and Garland attended the break-in of a school and a hotel, among other things on their ride-along.

NEW LUMBER

Rookie Marc-Antoine Pouliot will be looking for a new batch of sticks after a measurement at practice yesterday morning showed the ones he's used for his first three NHL games with the Oilers are illegal.

"I didn't know. I just found out," said an exasperated Pouliot after being informed of the illegal lumber by video coach Brian Ross. "I don't know what I'm going to do but I'll have to figure it out."

With measurements of sticks done before every shootout, the chances of getting caught with an illegal twig are far greater this season.


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