Jack Eichel began his night against the San Jose Sharks with a scoring chance on his first shift. The Sabres captain caught a pass from linemate Sam Reinhart in tight to the net and chose to forego a shot, opting instead to send a return pass that skipped by Reinhart and out toward the blue line.
A similar play happened to begin the second period, when Eichel put his world-class skating on display during a rush to the net and again opted to attempt a pass to Reinhart. In both cases, he knew he had chances to shoot. And yes, he heard the fans telling him too.
Frustrated in the moment, he was able to smile about it after the game.
"I'm a pass-first guy, I always have been," Eichel said. "You know what, if I could go back to those first two plays, I would obviously like to shoot them. But you learn from it. I think after that I got it into my head if I get a chance around the net the puck was going there."
Video: Broadcast Interview: Jack Eichel
Any second guessing about his early opportunities was wiped away by the time Eichel finished his last shift, which ended with him pouncing on a loose puck in the crease and burying it in overtime. The Sabres won, 4-3. Eichel assisted on two of those goals and scored the others.
It was a trademark performance from the captain, who helped the Sabres continue their red-hot start to the season. Their 8-1-1 record matches the 1975-76 and 2009-10 teams for the second-best 10-game start in franchise history. They're 5-0 at home for the first time since 1984-85.
Reinhart and Eichel spoke along with linemate Victor Olofsson in the days since their West Coast road trip about finding ways to get back onto the score sheet. The Sabres won two of three games on that trip with Eichel's line consistently playing top defense matchups, yet they came back to Buffalo hungry.
They were hardly alone in terms of missed opportunities in the first period. Jeff Skinner was stoned by goalie Martin Jones from the slot on his first shift of the night. Kyle Okposo and Conor Sheary both had chances stopped from in front of the net prior the first intermission.
The Sharks, meanwhile, capitalized on their two chances to take a 2-0 lead. The game turned with the Sabres on a power play during the second period, when Eichel once more passed up a one-time shot in an attempt to hit Olofsson with a pass through traffic.
The puck kicked off Olofsson's skate and bounced to Rasmus Dahlin at the point. Dahlin quickly set up Eichel with another one-time chance, and this time there was no question.
Video: SJS@BUF: Eichel rips slap shot off Dahlin's set-up
Eichel waited a moment for the light to flash once the puck beat Jones beneath the arm, then seemed to exhale as he raised both arms in celebration.
"Jack, out in California, he had the best players of the other teams against him all the time," Krueger said. "And he played really well out there, wasn't getting points, but he's matured a lot. He's stayed so positive and was cheering for the other guys as we got those wins.
"He deserved this kind of a game after the way he's been working and playing. He likes to look those top players in the eyes and that line in general really stepped up today and had an excellent five-on-five game, their best five-on-five game of the season at a very important time."
Eichel put forth a skillful effort to help tie the game later that period, kicking the puck to himself to stay onside as he drifted back toward the blue line and swinging a quick pass across to Ristolainen at the opposite point. Reinhart deflected a Ristolainen shot into the net with 31 seconds on the clock.
Video: SJS@BUF: Reinhart ties the game with deflection
They didn't miss a beat during the second intermission. Eichel turned his back to fend off defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic down low and set up Skinner for an attempt from the slot, which he buried to give the Sabres a 3-2 lead just 45 seconds into the third period.
Video: SJS@BUF: Skinner pots goal off Eichel's nice pass
Skinner was asked afterward what it was like to play alongside Eichel during his four-point outing. He took a long pause and smirked.
"Just like normal, I guess," he said. "I don't know. Obviously, he's a dominant player. He can take over games. That's why he is who he is. He made some big plays in some big moments and did a great job tonight."
Eichel's attack continued once the Sharks tied the game and sent it into overtime, during which the Sabres maintained possession for virtually the entire period until Ristolainen took a shot on a 2-on-1 rush that left the puck lying loose in the blue paint.
Eichel dove and buried the rebound, then jumped to his feet at as the crowd made itself heard once again. It was his 12th point on home ice this season, giving him sole possession of the NHL lead.
Video: SJS@BUF: Eichel knocks in game-winning goal in OT
"I'm definitely enjoying playing at home in front of this crowd," he said. "It's been fun."
Sticking to it
Prior to the game, general manager Jason Botterill lauded the Sabres for their ability to play even keeled through adversity so far in this young season. They provided two more examples against the Sharks.
Not only did the Sabres have to erase a two-goal deficit after the first period, they then had to weather a strong third-period push from the Sharks sparked by Karlsson's goal with 8:33 remaining.
"It was good," Eichel said. "Guys stayed up in the room between periods. I think we kind of just put our heads together, realized [the first] wasn't our best period, but not to get down. Just find a way to get that next goal. We do, and then I thought we took it to them for a while there.
"They're a really good hockey team, a veteran team. They've played a lot of big games. I thought they did a really good job of pushing back there in the third. Hutts made some really big saves, guys made some plays, and we find a way to get the win in overtime. That's what's important."
- Dylan Gambrell's first-period goal brought Hutton's career-best scoreless streak to an end at 133:22. The goaltender entered the game having not allowed a goal in his last two starts, including a 47-save outing in Los Angeles that set a franchise record for saves in a regular-season shutout.
- Eichel's overtime goal was the sixth of his career, moving him into a three-way tie with Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy for the Sabres' franchise record.
- Dahlin's assist on Eichel's power-play was his 10th point in as many games this season. He's just the sixth defenseman in franchise history to accomplish that feat, joining Jocelyn Guevremont, John Van Boxmeer (twice), Jim Schoenfeld, Phil Housley (four times), Hannu Virta, and Brian Campbell.
- Henri Jokiharju earned the secondary assist on Skinner's goal, his fourth in his last five games.
The Sabres hit the road for back-to-back games, beginning against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. Pregame coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m. You can also listen live on WGR 550, with puck drop set for 7.