On Thursday morning, before he exited American Airlines Center ice and hours before the Stars beat the Red Wings 7-3 to remain perfect, Jake Oettinger was a popular man.
Stars goaltending coach Jeff Reese stopped by to say a few words. Coach Rick Bowness gave Oettinger a quick tap on the pads. Teammate Nick Caamano knelt beside him as Oettinger stretched in front of the Stars bench.
By the end of the night, all of Oettinger’s teammates surrounded him after he picked up his first NHL win in his first career start. The 22-year-old rookie made 20 saves on 23 Detroit shots, as seven different Stars scored goals.
The win moved the Stars to 4-0-0 after the season’s first homestand, and Dallas is the last remaining perfect team in the NHL.
“Very happy with that considering what we went through in training camp, considering the amount of injuries we have to key players,” Bowness said. “Give the credit to players who stepped in tonight and the whole homestand.”
Joe Pavelski (fourth goal of the season), Denis Gurianov (third) and John Klingberg (second) continued their hot starts to the year, while Andrew Cogliano, Jamie Oleksiak, Ty Dellandrea and Justin Dowling (empty-netter) scored their first goals of 2020-21.
It was the first goal of Dellandrea’s NHL career.
“That’s Jake’s first win of many to come in his career, and Ty’s first goal of many to come in his career,” Bowness said. “It’s nice that they got them both in the same night. Both of them are a huge part of this organization as we move forward, and it’s great to see them get that behind them.”
Dallas killed six of seven penalties, but the Stars’ penalties gave Detroit life during a game in which the Red Wings finished with just 13 shots on goal at 5 on 5.
The Stars largely stifled the Red Wings in Oettinger’s debut, with two of Detroit’s goals coming off rebounds at the net-front, and the other on a deflected point shot. They didn’t ask Oettinger to be the best player on the ice during his first NHL start, and they survived a third-period push by the Red Wings that sullied Oettinger’s overall stat line.
“For the most part, I was happy with how it went,” Oettinger said. “I’m just happy to get the first one behind me and just continue to build confidence every time I’m in there. Thankfully, the guys played so well in front of me and made my job really easy tonight. If we keep playing like that, then we’re going to keep getting wins.
“I was just happy to be out there, and really a dream come true.”
The Stars will need Oettinger this season.
Thanks to the condensed schedule — tightened further by a preseason coronavirus outbreak in Dallas — and Ben Bishop’s recovery from knee surgery, Oettinger will receive a decent amount of starts to spell Anton Khudobin. Dallas figures to split every back-to-back between Khudobin and Oettinger, beginning with this weekend’s in Carolina.
And for a starting goalie who has never been a No. 1 in the NHL (like Khudobin), having a backup to give him a rest will be critical as the Stars try to lock down a playoff spot with Bishop out until March.
This season should also be big for Oettinger’s future. He is regarded as the successor to Bishop, and one of the best young goaltenders in the game. Next season, if Khudobin is taken by Seattle in the expansion draft, Oettinger could again be the Stars’ No. 2 goalie.
Oettinger has the pedigree to be the next great Stars goalie to follow the lineage from Moog to Belfour to Turco to Lehtonen to Bishop.
He played for the United States in the World Junior Championship. He was a first-round pick in 2017. He played three seasons at Boston University. He led all AHL rookies last season in save percentage. And like seemingly all rookie goalies now, he’s big at 6-5.
The goalie in the crease Thursday is far from the finished product the Stars expect out of the 22-year-old. But getting his first NHL start is the beginning.
“We certainly didn’t want to let him sit here too long,” Bowness said before the game. “He’s got to play. He’s going to play games, as we talked about before the season started. Tonight’s his opportunity. Listen, we’re all looking forward to seeing him play. He’s a great kid, a great prospect and he needs to play.”
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