Jack Eichel shines in Golden Knights return in 5-2 win over Penguins

Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel (9) shoots during the second period of the team's NHL...
Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel (9) shoots during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ellen Schmidt)(Ellen Schmidt | AP)
Published: Jan. 6, 2023 at 8:10 AM PST
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jack Eichel had a goal and two assists in his return from a lower-body injury and the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on Thursday night.

Vegas leads the Western Conference and is tied for second in the NHL at its midway point of the season. Pittsburgh, a 2-1 loser in Boston on Monday in the Winter Classic, has lost six straight, going 0-4-2 since Dec. 27.

After giving the Knights a 2-0 lead early in the first period, Eichel — back after missing 11 games — assisted on goals by Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. Paul Cotter, who was back after missing eight games with an upper-body injury, and Phil Kessel also scored while Adin Hill made 38 saves.

“It’s good to see contributions up and down the lineup,” Eichel said. “I think that’s one of the strengths of our group is we have a deep team and can roll four lines out and play against anyone.”

And while coach Bruce Cassidy agreed and praised the Knights for their collective effort in a game nine skaters had at least one point, it was evident the team was skating with a different energy with its star back in the lineup.

“He’s an elite player in the league,” Cassidy said of Eichel. “He’s excited to play again. He was having I would say an All-Star-type of year when he started. Might still be in the mix.”

The Knights have won three straight and four in a row at home, where they struggled to win at times during the first half. Vegas improved to 12-9-0 at home, where it will play its next six games.

Ty Smith scored early in the third for Pittsburgh, his first of the season, and Sidney Crosby added his 20th with 1:30 to go. Casey DeSmith made 26 stops.

Kessel opened the scoring against his former team when he punched home Cotter’s pass into the net less than two minutes into the game. Eichel to made his presence known shortly thereafter, beating DeSmith with a quick wrist shot on a breakaway down the right side of the slot.

Stephenson’s one-timer over DeSmith’s glove midway through the first made it 3-0.

The Penguins dominated the second period, outshooting Vegas 20-12, but couldn’t solve Hill. Instead, it was Vegas extending its lead with just 11 seconds left when Stone deflected Brayden McNabb’s shot past DeSmith.

Pittsburgh spoiled the shutout bid in the third when Smith finished a drop pass in the high slot and snapped it past Hill.

Cotter’s late goal provided the final margin.

“We’re a better hockey team than that. We showed it in the second and the third, but we didn’t give ourselves a chance because we didn’t play well enough in the first,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I’m sure everyone involved is frustrated because our expectations are high. When you don’t live up to them ... that’s one of the emotions you deal with.”

NOTES: Vegas rookie goaltender Logan Thompson was named to the Pacific Division All-Star team shortly before puck drop, while Pittsburgh’s Crosby was named to his ninth career All-Star Game. ... The Penguins arrived to the arena wearing blue and gold ribbons in support of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who wore blue and gold at the University of Pittsburgh and Central Catholic. ... The Penguins donned a “CF” sticker on their helmet in memory of Kris Letang’s father, Claude Fouquet.


Penguins: At Arizona on Sunday.

Golden Knights: Host Los Angeles on Saturday night.