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JONES: Edmonton Oilers need to find the will to go with the skill

Edmonton Oilers players exit the ice after losing 6-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
Edmonton Oilers players exit the ice after losing 6-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

There are positives to take away from the triple trouncing of the Edmonton Oilers by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I’m positive, for example, general manager Ken Holland learned a lot about what players he won’t be wanting to go forward with here.

What Holland learned in the past three games against the now clearly undisputed top team in the Canadian division is the reason a general manager wants to have his team involved in the playoffs. You learn things about players in a playoff series that are generally a lot less obvious in the regular season.

The Maple Leafs came to town and treated the three games like a playoff series and totally exposed several of the players on Holland’s humbled and humiliated hockey team.

It ought to be considered a positive that Holland saw it mid-season instead of end season.

His Oilers clearly need to add guts and grit and put a greater emphasis on will than skill than exists now.

When the going got tough, too many Oilers got invisible.

Too many players permitted the Maple Leafs role players to impose their will on the Oilers and take away the time and space of committed, motivated and hungry stars like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

There were several pretty honest quotes to come out of the 13-1, three-game, 180-minutes of Edmonton exposure that totally transformed a team on an 11-2 run into one that got run out of its own rink.

“It’s very concerning that we don’t want to grab the competitive level in a series like this,” said Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. “You can’t put it behind you. You have to recognize what you’re doing, recognize how you play because if you don’t recognize it, it’s pretty hard to fix it.

“We have a lot of recognizing to do in the next couple days. We won a few games but that’s a real good dose of reality for us right there.”

Leon Draisaitl, who picked up the primary assist on the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins goal that prevented what would have been the first three consecutive shutouts against the same team involving three different goalies in the entire history of the NHL, was honest enough, too.

“We just didn’t win any battles. It’s tough to draw penalties if you’re not in there winning battles. We didn’t push back enough.”

In all three games, the Oilers showed up and engaged in the little battles and races to the puck that make up a hockey game. But on all three nights when they saw the Leafs battle them back, the Oilers chose to go away.

Former Leafs defenceman Tyson Barrie, who had been great going into the series but didn’t exactly surround himself with glory against his old team, also made some accurate statements.

“They gave us a bit of a lesson there. I think they’re probably the team in our division that’s the gold standard right now. I think we thought that we were playing pretty well and they showed us otherwise. We need to take a look in the mirror here and look at some important things.

“They embarrassed us in those three games in a row. We have got to learn from it.”

If I’m Holland, I’ve seen enough of James Neal to decide he’s done in Edmonton.

Gaetan Haas, Kyle Turris and Joakim Nygard gave them nothing.

Yes, some kids like Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones had tough nights. And Jesse Puljujarvi disappeared. But they’re works in progress.

The Oilers had Thursday as a mandated NHL Players Association collective-bargaining agreement day off, and maybe that’s best for everybody involved in terms of going forward.

If the performance of the Leafs was a big part of what happened as opposed to the performance of the Oilers, then there is a positive involved here.

If Toronto is for real and this is what you’re going to see from the there rest of the season, then the Oilers should come back to the rink Friday motivated to finish higher than fourth to avoid playing the Maple Leafs in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And there’s another positive in here as well.

The Oilers only have two games remaining against Toronto.

Winnipeg has nine.

Montreal has seven.

Vancouver has six.

Calgary has five.

In the meantime, the NHL trade deadline is only six weeks away and any deals Canadian teams are going to do will likely have to be done by the end of the month because of the 14-day quarantine situation.

Holland, as a result of this week, has to have a pretty good idea of what he has to do to give the Oilers some of the qualities they were obviously missing against Toronto.

E-mail: [email protected]

On Twitter: @byterryjones

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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