Pure character

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

DALLAS -- Persistence. Discipline. Execution.

It takes equal parts of each to pull off whatever game plan Craig MacTavish draws up, and the Edmonton Oilers have come up with enough of all three to be feeling better about themselves as they open a three-game road trip against the Dallas Stars tonight.

COMMITMENT THERE

Add commitment to defensive play and timely goaltending to the mix, and you get the two-game turnaround the Oilers have fashioned with a 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks and a 3-1 decision over the Carolina Hurricanes after a troubling three-game slide.

It's impressive, of course, because the Oilers have managed it without Ethan Moreau, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth.

Fact is, it's entirely possible the Oilers have taken their game from the drawing board to the ice because they don't have those three players.

"It's a good template to work from in terms of how we want to play the next few months," MacTavish said.

"We need to play this way with or without some of the injuries we have.

"I thought we did a lot of things well and, tactically, we were as good as we have been for awhile."

If anything, the loss of Moreau, Hemsky and Smyth seems to have sharpened the focus and commitment to the details it takes to be successful. That, or their efforts of late are timely coincidence.

Either way, MacTavish has seen close-to-complete, cohesive performances by the Oilers at a time when a lot of people, myself included, thought they might be struggling to stay at .500 and in a playoff spot by Christmas.

The Oilers still have eight games to play before the break - and at least two weeks, at a minimum, before they get Hemsky and Smyth back - but they didn't stagger into Texas the way it looked like they might.

"The style of hockey we played the last two games is what made us successful last year," said Shawn Horcoff.

"The biggest bonus, with some of the guys who experienced the (playoff) run last year out is that some of the young guys are getting a taste of the style of hockey we need to play, especially in big games."

Outscored 14-5 in losses to Anaheim, Colorado and Columbus, the Oilers have tightened up in front of Dwayne Roloson, who collared the Canucks, and Jussi Markkanen, who beat the Hurricanes.

They allowed 36 shots in Vancouver and 29 against Carolina, but you could count the Grade-A chances Carolina had on one hand. The Canucks didn't have many more. Roloson and Markkanen had to be good, but not great.

"You want to stay within the template. We've played some good games, but that was probably the most solid game we've played all year," Joffrey Lupul said of Wednesday's win.

"There wasn't an individual performance that was outstanding, it was just a full team effort. You can't pick anyone out who didn't pull their own weight."

INTRIGUING MATCHUP

All of which makes tonight's matchup intriguing. Dallas is as banged up as the Oilers.

Likewise, coach Dave Tippett is getting the same kind of no-frills hockey from his depleted lineup.

Add to that a shutout streak by Marty Turco of 143 minutes, and you've got a couple of outfits on top of their team game.

"You can always revert to a good, structured defensive game," Horcoff said. "You're always going to give yourself a chance to win.

"Come playoff time, that's the type of hockey you have to play ... when we're playing that way, we're a pretty good hockey club."


Videos

Photos