Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Thursday:
1. Return of the Crow
The Blackhawks got their man back between the pipes after a 10-month layoff due to a concussion. And he looked like same old "Crow."
Crawford stopped 27 of 30 shots for a save percentage of .900. He faced 12 shots and eight scoring chances in the first period, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest save he made was on a Michael Grabner breakaway in the third period, bailing out a turnover in the neutral zone.
"I think I felt better in the second and third," Crawford said. "But they really didn’t get that many opportunities early. It was nice. I think they flipped one in for the first one, so that was kind of good just to get in it and feel one early. We were close in that one all game and we created a lot. I thought [Antti] Raanta played really well.
"It was a tough, tough break at the end. Still felt I should have stopped that one. We were right there, we were creating a lot and gotta try to come up with that one. Just gotta forget about it and worry about the next game."
2. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews extend point streaks
The hot start continues for the Blackhawks' two leading scorers, both of whom assisted on Erik Gustafsson's goal in the second period to stretch their point streaks to six games. DeBrincat and Toews each have 10 points this season.
Erik Gustafsson nets his first goal of the season! Toews continues his point streak with the assist, his longest streak to open a season since his rookie year.— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) October 19, 2018
Stream the rest of the action here: https://t.co/qFhtSb3JPP pic.twitter.com/GyaTGJRiUz
3. Overtime streak ends
The Blackhawks made history by forcing five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team has ever done in the four major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB). But they didn't have the comeback magic in them this time.
Entering Thursday, the Blackhawks were 1-0-1 when trailing after two periods. They were 5-28-2 last season for a win percentage of .143.
4. Familiar faces, new places
Five former Blackhawks took the ice for the Coyotes: Vinnie Hinostroza, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Oesterle, Richard Panik and Antti Raanta.
It was Hjalmarsson's first trip back to Chicago since being traded in the 2017 offseason. He received a nice video tribute during the second TV timeout of the first period, which made him very emotional.
"I almost got emotional too seeing his reaction," Toews said. "He's one of those guys you'll never forget what he meant to this locker room. He was a quiet guy in the room but we all know how he played and put everyone else before himself. Pretty cool reaction from the fans too. I think we were all sad to see him leave this locker room, he did a lot of special things and was a massive part of our championship wins. Happy for him to get that reception. It's well-deserved and obviously we miss having him around."
As far as the game, Hjalmarsson logged a team-high 22:18 of ice time and blocked three shots. Oesterle registered a secondary assist on Arizona's first goal, which was its first 5-on-5 of the season.
Hinostroza, who was also part of the Marian Hossa trade over the summer, scored twice in his return to his hometown, beating Crawford with a wrist shot to make it 2-1 in the second period and an empty-netter in the third; his second goal turned out to be the game winner, the fourth of his career and first as a member of the Coyotes.
Panik recorded four shot attempts (three on goal). And Raanta improved to 16-0-3 in his career at the United Center, a remarkable record for any goaltender in any situation.
The Bulls backup point guard situation will be in dire straits all season, with no established veteran behind Kris Dunn. And although the front office has seemingly committed to Cameron Payne as the backup PG (for at least this season), Ryan Arcidiacono showed enough in the season opener to justify giving him meaningful plying time in the rotation.
Here are the stat lines of Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne from the season opener in Philadelphia:
Arcidiacono: 8 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line
Payne: 0 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 from the 3-point line
With so many capable ball handlers and score-first players on the Bulls, point and assist totals aren’t as important as the rebounds and 3-point attempts. To provide the necessary space needed for driving lanes, there has to be openings in the defense caused by defenders sticking close to player they believe are a threat to shoot.
And that is where the problem lies with Payne.
Ryan Arcidiacono—while by no means a dominant scorer—showed a willingness to attack off of the pick-and-roll, even showing off an impressive ball-fake:
Ryan Arcidiacono Ball Fake on Joel Embiid & Markelle Fultz pic.twitter.com/m6EEYwHL4g— Gustavo Vega (@iamvega1982) October 19, 2018
Payne, despite coming into the league with the reputation of a scorer, has yet to be aggressive enough to make teams think twice about giving him wide-open on the perimeter. And he is not one to attack the basket with purpose, averaging less than half a free throw per game for his career. Payne's general lack of aggressiveness when on the floor is often times made worse by his occasional poor post entry passes that seem predetermined:
Even if the above play was designed to get the ball to LaVine in the mid-post, Payne chooses a terrible time to make the pass. When he starts the motion to give the ball to LaVine, Ben Simmons is positioned in front of LaVine to force a tougher pass, as rookie Landry Shamet gambles over the backside to get the steal.
Had Payne chose to swing the ball around the perimeter, or give it to Bobby Ports and then get it back, he could have created an opening for the LaVine pass.
Obviously, the Bulls 19-point loss can’t be blamed on solely on Payne, the terrible defense was a group effort, as was the sometimes questionable shot selection. But with the defense already appearing to be perhaps one of the league's worst units, Fred Hoiberg would be wise to put Arcidiacono in more.
Hoiberg is in a crucial year where he needs to show that he can be the head coach of this team when they finally become competitive.
And for Hoiberg to show that type of growth as a coach, he needs to set the tone that minutes are earned not given, something he has already started with his moving of Jabari Parker to the bench. Payne only received 22 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for Arcidiacono, and it is tough to see that changing if things continue on like they did on Thursday night.