ST. PAUL -- Jacques Lemaire has been a part of 11 teams that won Stanley Cups, so most would assume his patience has been all but exhausted in Minnesota since the expansion team began play last season.
But even during the Wild's recent woes, Lemaire has been flashing more grins than grimaces.
"The magic is to be patient," Lemaire said. "The magic is to work with your players to try to improve them, having the right tools to work with them."
Until an impressive 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders on Sunday, the Wild had gone 14 games with one win and just 18 goals. They scored three times in only one of those games.
Still, Lemaire's post-game commentary remained completely positive throughout that stretch. No kicking chairs. No tossing water coolers. Just a lot of gushing about guys playing hard.
"What we want to do is find out how far the players can go," Lemaire said Monday. "There will be ups and downs. Then you see who can come out of it and how quick and how strong you are. It gives you a chance to evaluate them and see how far they can go and who belongs here, who is going to stay here in the future, who can be part of the growing process."
The Wild touts the state of Minnesota as the state of hockey, and fans have backed up that claim by filling the Xcel Energy Center for all 72 regular-season games the team has played in St. Paul. But therein lies a potential pitfall.
The knowledgeable hockey fan also will surely lose tolerance for losing hockey once the honeymoon of having a new team in town wears off. There have undoubtedly been a few more boos echoing throughout the arena this year than last.
Lemaire and general manager Doug Risebrough are savvy enough to be aware of the need to eventually begin matching victories with valiance, so they have a plan in place. It's just not ready to be enacted yet.
"Evaluation takes time," Lemaire said. "Let's say that we would be in a rush and say, 'Hey, it's been a few years, we've got to move now. We've got names we know we can go with. We've got warriors we know will come in and fight for us. We're trying to get this team growing.
"Do you want to go and raise the ticket prices and get the $6 million guy and be battling for the playoffs, maybe not making them, and be at the same point?"
The Wild, obviously, don't want to do that at this point. But losing is no fun for anyone.
The team appreciates Lemaire's support, and the attitudes around the arena are almost always pleasant. But these are pro athletes -- they're not going to be dancing around the dressing room after another 2-1 loss. So none of the players really wants to talk about being satisfied with effort rather than success, even if they can take advantage of it in the future.
"We don't concern ourselves with pressure," said center Wes Walz. "We've got to make sure we're ready to play every game. The coaches are going to decide how they want to deal with us not scoring or how we play, whether they want to be hard on us or go the other way.
The Wild have made good on their commitment to score more goals, but they're also allowing a lot more. They have risen from last to 24th in the NHL in goals scored but dropped from 12th to 24th in goals allowed.
Manny Fernandez, after ranking sixth in the NHL in save percentage last season, has given up 17 goals in five straight losses.
Through no one's fault, the defense has been beset by injuries -- the latest being Filip Kuba's broken right hand that will keep him out at least five to six weeks. The thinned defensive unit -- Brad Brown, Brad Bombardir and Willie Mitchell have also missed large chunks of time -- has surely contributed to some of the goalies' struggles.
But this team is still missing some pieces. Watching the star-stocked Colorado Avalanche dismantle Minnesota 6-0 Friday night was painful enough to send everyone rushing for the exits.
Enough to get even Lemaire to admit some frustration.
"These type of games are tough," Lemaire said. "The other ones that are close, we're battling and for us it's exciting. We feel that we're not far, it keeps us going. You want to have a chance. There will be a time, when we'll go on and beat two good teams when they're ready for us. That'll be a good sign."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.