Welcome to the Jack Eichel show.
That message was signed, sealed and delivered last night in Buffalo in a game that will go down in Vegas Golden Knights lore.
The Golden Knights won their ninth straight game, defeating the Sabres 7-4 to wrap up a perfect road trip, the first 5-0-0 road trip in franchise history.
But the game was so much more than another win for a Golden Knights team that is off to a 13-2-0 start to the season.
It was a full-circle, look-at-me-now return of Jack Eichel, the superstar.
A dominant third-period effort saw the former Sabres captain record an assist and follow it up with a hat trick for a four-point night.
Eichel’s performance, his best since joining Vegas last year, demonstrated what he is capable of when healthy.
He had an additional two breakaways that were shut down by goaltender Eric Comrie.
The Buffalo faithful cheered those failed attempts raucously.
But Eichel continued to push, and he ultimately broke through in a big way.
Eichel’s four points, all of which came in the third period, extended his point streak to seven games; he has recorded six goals and 12 points in that stretch and now has 19 points in 15 games this season.
Eichel is on pace for 103 points, which would shatter his career high by 21 points.
But for now, here’s a look at his historical evening on his old stomping ground.
Point No. 1
ASSIST — Alex Pietrangelo (Eichel, Chandler Stephenson) — 3:52, third period
It started with an assist.
Eichel’s 400th career assist, to be exact.
It also was Eichel’s first career point against the Sabres, as he recorded the primary assist on Alex Pietrangelo’s goal just under four minutes into the third period.
Right off the faceoff, Eichel collected the puck and fed it across the zone to Pietrangelo, whose shot from the blue line hit a Buffalo defenseman before finding twine.
The relief for Eichel, who went pointless in two games against the Sabres last year, was palpable.
But it was nothing compared to his celebration after actually putting the puck in the net.
Point No. 2
GOAL — Eichel (Pietrangelo, Stephenson) — 6:13, third period
This time, it was Pietrangelo who took care of the set-up.
Eichel slammed home the rebound off Pietrangelo’s shot from the point, prompting his Gladiator tribute to the Buffalo fanbase.
It was Eichel’s first goal against his former team and seventh of the season.
Point No. 3
GOAL — Eichel (Stephenson, Mark Stone) — 14:37, third period
Eichel’s second goal of the game came off the rush, and it was a full-line goal for Vegas’ top unit.
Mark Stone sent a behind-the-back, between-the-legs drop pass to Stephenson in the defensive zone before the trio raced down the ice, with Eichel showing great speed up the middle.
Stephenson sent a perfect tape-to-tape feed that found Eichel as he drove to the net. Eichel quickly gathered the puck, flipped it to his forehand and beat Comrie five-hole for his eighth of the year.
Jack Eichel is having a KNIGHT pic.twitter.com/TqefCNTqIg— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) November 11, 2022
Eichel hit the post shortly after scoring his second but remained on hat trick watch for the rest of the game.
Point No. 4
GOAL — Eichel (Alec Martinez) — 19:52, third period
With just 10 seconds remaining in regulation — and three Buffalo skaters surrounding him — Eichel fired the puck from the corner on Vegas’ goal line and waited as it made its way down the ice.
Just 2.4 seconds later, the puck completed its journey across the Buffalo goal line and into the yawning cage for the momentous hat trick.
Under normal circumstances, it would have been an impressive shot, one unlikely to find the net. But given the significance of the moment, it was a somewhat remarkable goal despite it being an empty-netter.
The goal capped off the first four-point performance in a single period in Golden Knights history, and it completed Eichel’s third career hat trick, all of which have been scored at KeyBank Center.
Eichel silenced the crowd with a brilliant showing.
But it was more than that.
Last year, his postgame comments aimed at the Buffalo fanbase were indicative of his overall frustration.
He was greeted with boos all night and had to watch the Sabres pull off an exciting 3-1 win in his old barn. The Golden Knights were in the midst of a losing streak and were continuing to lose ground in the playoff chase. Eichel needed time to adjust following an 11-month absence from hockey and a neck surgery that had yet to be performed on an NHL player. Things weren’t going well.
It was a very different story last night.
The Golden Knights are not just winning but currently sit in first place in the NHL with 26 points in 15 games.
The atmosphere in the locker room and on the ice is noticeably lighter, and Bruce Cassidy has made significant improvements to every aspect of Vegas’ game.
Eichel now has a partial season and a full offseason under his belt and looks drastically more comfortable and natural on the ice.
He has been producing consistently, has come through with clutch plays at key moments and is excelling as the No. 1 center on a team that is firing on all cylinders.
Eichel is finally starting to look like the player of old, the one who was more than capable of taking over a game with elite skill and poise.
Eichel: I just feel very privileged to be able to play this game. It was a great team win for us, we had a good road trip. I've just been enjoying playing hockey this year and trying to make the most of every night. pic.twitter.com/tDGKacRsZx— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) November 11, 2022
It’s one thing to score against your former team; it’s another to do what Eichel did last night.
It was an exclamation point of defiance, resilience, perseverance and steadfast tenacity.
Fittingly, it came almost one year to the day of his artificial disk replacement surgery.
The same surgery the Sabres forbade him from having.
The same surgery that allowed Eichel to return to NHL action after just three months of recovery.
The same surgery that has Eichel returning to form in another team’s sweater.
Last night was a statement game, and Eichel was able to direct it towards the organization that showed visible disappointment over losing the draft lottery and ending up with him instead of Connor McDavid, refused to let him have the surgery of his choice, stripped him of the captaincy and then traded him.
It was a vintage Golden Knights display of sweet revenge against a former team, and it’s a night Jack Eichel won’t soon forget.