Goaltender Jake Oettinger established himself as the backbone of the Dallas Stars last season, having a career year while helping to lead the team to the Western Conference Finals.
Oettinger displayed a high ceiling in his debut season in 2020-2021, stopping 91.1% of the shots he faced and winning 11 games in 29 appearances, and he has carried that over as he improves year-to-year. Last season, he became the go-to guy in the net, making a career-high 61 starts, finishing among the top 10 NHL goaltenders, and having the second-most shutouts in the league.
No one can question Oettinger’s talent, accomplishments, and skill level, but for the first time in his career, he is experiencing an extended stretch of struggles.
“[There’s] not one thing I can put my finger on,” Oettinger told the media after Saturday’s loss. ” It’s easy to say that I haven’t gotten the bounces, but I feel like I really haven’t, honestly.”
Oettinger has started 19 of Dallas’ 25 games this season, and his numbers are down. While it is early in the season, he has allowed at least four goals five times in the last eight games, including six during Saturday’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
“I could let in 10 goals a game for the next five games, and I’m never going to stop believing in myself, but I can be a great goalie for this team,” he said. “… It doesn’t always go the way you want it, even when you do the stuff the right way, and I wish differently right now, but I’m not going to change anything about who I am or how I work or prepare for this job. I’m doing the right thing, so it’s going to come mentally.”
“That’s how it goes in this league, and it’s the most humbling position,” he added. “You can’t hide out there at all. When you’re struggling, you can’t just go hide in the cubicle. There’s 18,000 people watching you…”
Oettinger’s teammates continue to support him, knowing that what he has done in the past is a much better indicator of the player he can be.
“We’ve got all the confidence in the world in Jake,” veteran forward Joe Pavelski told the media. “Number one, he works hard. He competes. There’s a ton of belief coming from me and coming from the guys in this room. We’re not looking at him like he’s letting us down by any means. It’s probably the other way around that we feel we should be a little bit better for our goaltenders. … This is on all of us to fix.”
“I think Jake knows he has another level, but we’ve got to be better around him, too,” head coach Pete DeBoer added during a postgame press conference.
Despite the clear focus on improving things around him on the ice, Oettinger quickly admitted he could not start pushing the blame toward other aspects of the team’s play.
“I have a job to do,” he acknowledged. “When I start worrying about other stuff, that’s not a good thing. It starts with me. The puck’s got to get past me no matter what. I’m just focused on myself and what I [can] do to be better after 15 goals in the last three games, so I got a lot of work to do myself before I start looking outwards.”