The long arm of NHL law reached out to Jack Eichel on Sunday and the Buffalo Sabres captain will be sitting out the next two games.
Eichel has been given a two-game suspension by the NHL's Department of Player Safety for his hit to the head of Colorado's Carl Soderberg during Saturday's game in the Pepsi Center. Eichel had a phone hearing with the league earlier Sunday and the resulting ban was his first fine or suspension in his four-year NHL career.
Eichel was given an "illegal check to the head" penalty at 14:48 of the second period after appearing to pick Soderberg's head as the pair was engaged in a puck battle in the neutral zone. Soderberg went down briefly on his stomach but got up and headed to the bench. He played the rest of the game and appeared to be uninjured.
According to the NHL's Department of Player Safety released Sunday night, Eichel's suspension was largely a result of the fact that Soderberg's head was the principal point of contact on the play.
"With Soderberg reaching for the puck, Eichel cut sharply in front of him with his upper body hitting Soderberg's head and making it the main point of contact on a hit where such head contact was avoidable," the league said.
"While we acknowledge Eichel's argument that Soderberg is low and reaching for the puck, this hit does not meet any of the criteria for unavoidable head contact under Rule 48."
Eichel was clearly agitated in the wake of a late and high hit he took from former Sabres defenseman Nikita Zadorov in the first period. Zadorov got a minor penalty for roughing on the play, which came after a whistle for offsides. He is not facing any supplemental discipline.
After the game, Eichel admitted he took matters into his own hands to show some response in the wake of repeated physical play against the Sabres in recent weeks.
"It seems like they were taking runs a little bit at times," Eichel said of the Avalanche. "If I'm going to be at the forefront of it, I might as well push back a little bit. I've got to protect myself."
The league ruled that Eichel went too far, saying he could have taken a different angle on the hit and driven through Soderberg's shoulder and core rather than picking the head. The league also absolved Soderberg of contributing to the nature of the hit.
"His head and core move in a consistent manner," the DoPS said, "and do not suddenly and materially change position in a way that changes the nature of this hit from a full body check to one that picks the head."
Eichel will miss two straight home games, Tuesday against Dallas and Thursday against Pittsburgh, and will be eligible to return Saturday in Carolina. Eichel has 25 goals, 47 assists and 72 points in 65 games. He missed three games earlier this season after suffering an upper-body injury.
Eichel's two-game ban matches match what Edmonton's Connor McDavid earned last month for a similar check to the head on New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy. Like Eichel, that was McDavid's first hearing with Player Safety.