McDavid says Oilers defense not where it needs to be after Qualifiers

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Connor McDavid said the Edmonton Oilers need to improve their defensive game if they want to become a Stanley Cup contender.

“Obviously it’s not where it needs to be,” the Oilers captain said Friday, one week after Edmonton was eliminated in four games by the Chicago Blackhawks in the best-of-5 the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. “Teams that win are the teams that defend, and we haven’t seemed to figure that out yet.

“I don’t know how else to say it; I thought we took some big steps playing defensively during the season. Yeah, it just wasn’t there at the end of the season. Personally, obviously, it could be better.”

The No. 5-seeded Oilers scored 15 goals in four games in their series against the No. 12-seeded Blackhawks. McDavid led all players in the Qualifiers with nine points (five goals, four assists). But Edmonton allowed 16 goals against Chicago. 

The Oilers improved their defensive play during the regular season, allowing 3.03 goals per game and ranking 15th in the NHL; that was an improvement from 3.30 goals-against per game (25th) the previous season. 

“In terms of the players, it’s definitely the right direction, knowing what we have to do to be successful,” McDavid said. “We did it most of the regular season and obviously when it came time and mattered most, we dropped the ball. I think we still made some steps and we’ll learn and grow from it.”

General manager Ken Holland said Tuesday McDavid and Leon Draisaitl would gain valuable experience from the qualifier series.

“…They are getting better but I also think in this playoff series, we were playing against battle-tested players,” Holland said, referring to the Blackhawks. “Some players there won three Stanley Cups. They have to learn that, too.”

Draisaitl was the Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL scoring leader with 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in 71 games. McDavid, who finished second to Draisaitl in the scoring race with 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) in 64 games, said the lessons were tough to swallow but they will be a focus in the future.

“Obviously that’s an issue and we’re aware of it and we’ll have to be better moving forward,” McDavid said. “But again, I thought we took steps in the regular season to fix that.”

Defenseman Darnell Nurse said no one should doubt that the Oilers realize their shortcomings and that they will be motivated to continue their progress next season.

“It didn’t go how any of us wanted it to go,” said Nurse, who had two assists in four games against the Blackhawks, and 33 points (five goals, 28 assists) in 71 games this season. “Everyone’s [upset] about it, I think that’s the best way to describe, But to beat yourself over the head with it for weeks, is that going to bring you back in a better mind state or better mind frame — or is it going to affect you in your goals for next season? 

“There’s a taste in everyone’s mouth that no one likes, but you need to find a way to not have that taste. We’ve had it four out of (my) five years here, so we know we need to be better.”

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