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Coach Barry Melrose was clear before Saturday's game with the Wild, he expects more from his best players.

To drive home the point, he scratched RW Radim Vrbata, who had zero points, six shots and zero hits in four games.

"It's time for some of our star players to put the puck in the net and start helping out all over the rink," Melrose said.

David Koci made his first start of the season, it would seem, to counter Minnesota enforcer Derek Boogaard. That Vrbata, one of the offseason's prime acquisitions and signed to a three-year, $9-million contract, was the fall guy was significant.

Not that he has been the only top forward struggling. RW Marty St. Louis entered Saturday with a goal but just four shots. LW Ryan Malone had a goal on just seven.

Even captain Vinny Lecavalier, coming off shoulder surgery and with a team-best two goals, is still trying to find his way.

"They've played four games now," Melrose said. "If you're a real goal scorer and not scoring, what else are you giving our team? They have to decide. If you're not scoring ... you have to help the team in other ways."

A BAD EARLY RETURN: Koci's first shift ended with a holding penalty. Ten seconds after he got out of the box, he was called for interference. He had one other eight-second shift in the period.

MALIK NEEDS WORK: D Marek Malik was not in Saturday's lineup and, according to Melrose, "is not in quite as good shape as we hoped he would be."

Malik, who still has not signed a contract, said he skated five or six times a week in his native Czech Republic. But as Melrose pointed out, "Skating every day isn't like pushing yourself every day. If you're skating by yourself, it's really tough to push yourself."

"You always need some practice," Malik said. "Every day it's going to be better conditioning-wise and feeling more comfortable with the team.

Malik's next chance to play is Tuesday against Atlanta.

RAYS OF HOPE: Fs Marian Gaborik and Andrew Brunette picked the Rays in the Wild's team baseball pool and wore Rays caps in the locker room. Gaborik said he was confident the Rays would beat Boston. "They have two games at home," he said.

ODDS AND ENDS: F Ryan Craig (groin) skated with the team and called it "a positive step forward." Melrose said Craig is "close" to being ready. ... Melrose said Wild C Mikko Koivu, who entered Saturday with a league-best nine points, "is one of the five best young players in the game. Size, skating ability, goes to the front of the net, plays fast." ... F Jason Ward and D Jamie Heward were scratched.