That wasn’t in the script.
Corey Crawford made his first start since Dec. 23, 2017, but the Arizona Coyotes ruined that return by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 on Thursday night at the United Center — Chicago’s first regulation loss this season.
Arizona got on the board in the first period when former Hawk Jordan Oesterle made an excellent breakout pass that set Clayton Keller off on a two-on-one, and Keller fed a pass to Lawson Crouse, who buried a one-timer past Crawford to give Arizona a 1-0 lead in the middle of the first period.
Chicago tied the score in the second when Erik Gustafsson completed another beautiful passing play between Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat, filling up an empty net for a 1-1 deadlock.
The Coyotes took the lead two minutes later on a goal by Vinnie Hinostroza — another former Hawk — and never trailed again. Keller scored on a breakway in the third period to make it a 3-1 Arizona lead and then Hinostroza added an empty-net goal for the final margin of victory.
Let’s discuss the obvious: Crawford looked very good.
The three goals that Arizona scored against all came off odd-man rushes. And he still came within inches of saving the one scored by Hinostroza. But there were hardly any signs of rust on Crawford.
And don’t just take our word for it: Cat Silverman, The Athletic’s foremost expert on all things related to goaltenders, had a similar thought:
Looks like he's back. And I say that with complete confidence: very little about his game to be worried about. https://t.co/ZNbujFgegh— Catherine Silverman (@catmsilverman) October 19, 2018
A lot of people were asking me about Crawford's lateral movement sharpness and speed, along with his vision agility, during those mysterious practices over the last few weeks.— Catherine Silverman (@catmsilverman) October 19, 2018
Shot didn't get through here, but perfect example of how his range of motion + clarity looks normal. https://t.co/FIn2Jo2stS
Some thoughts on Brandon Manning and Chris Kunitz
They’re going to be the object of much derision during the next 36 hours because of their responsibilities in the three goals scored with Crawford in net. Manning made a miserable attempt at breaking up a two-on-one and then was late to recognize an emerging scoring chance for Hinostroza, who made no mistake. Then Kunitz made a brutal turnover that led to the game-clinching third goal for Arizona. When these are the only two skaters that Chicago acquired in free agency this summer, it’s a real bad look for the Blackhawks front office’s approach to the 2018 offseason.
I can offer some defense of Kunitz, who’s been mostly OK in a bottom-six role through the first six games of the season. But Manning has repeatedly been exploited by opposing offenses. Of the 14 even-strength goals Chicago has surrendered through six games, Manning has been on the ice for half of them. Maybe it’s time to see what Brandon Davidson can do? Outside of that, the only optimism I can muster regarding Manning is that either Gustav Forsling or Connor Murphy will likely take his ice time once they return from injury — or so we can hope.
Trust the process.
This sentiment was expressed on Twitter and it was also discussed by Pat Foley and Ed Olczyk on the broadcast. This is a disappointing, annoying loss for the Hawks because they were playing a team that had not scored an even-strength goal all season and Chicago should’ve had an emotional edge with Crawford returning to the lineup.
But Crawford looked like his old self and the Blackhawks had a bunch of scoring chances thwarted by a goalie who continues to emerge as one of the better in the game. The timing was rough, but these are the kind of tough-luck outings that are going to happen over an 82-game schedule. There are still positive conclusion to be taken from this game, and the play of No. 50 tops that list. Don’t let one poor night take away from what’s still an overall positive start to the 2018-19 season.
- Vinnie Hinostroza (ARI) — 2 goals, GWG
- Antti Raanta (ARI) — 33 saves
- Erik Gustafsson (CHI) — 1 goal, 4 SOG