Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stewart's offensive production slow out of gates

Power forward admits he can do more, feels it's a matter of time

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Consecutive 28-goal seasons had hockey purists wondering whether power forward Chris Stewart had the capabilities to be a 40-goal scorer.

And the overwhelming answers came back with a resounding yes.

Stewart just turned 24 years old, and many believe the pedals of the flower have yet to blossom. There's so much to offer. With a heavy focus this past summer on vigorous workouts that saw Stewart come into camp stronger and leaner, many wondered if that 40-goal season would come this year.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Chris Stewart is off to a slow start with two goals in 11 games.

However, it's been a slow start for Stewart, who has two goals and one assist in 11 games and is goalless in his last eight. This from a player who began a season ago with the Colorado Avalanche on a tear, scoring nine times and assisting on seven others in the Avs' first 11 games. It had many wondering why the Avalanche would deal away a pure, young power forward with a natural scoring ability.

Stewart isn't the lone Blue that could use an increased dose of offensive production, but for someone that was projected to be a proficient go-to guy, the numbers haven't quite added up early on.

"I can obviously be better. I think we all could be better," Stewart said Wednesday. "The first (11) games, we've been a one-line team. (Jason) Arnott, (Alex) Steen and Langs (Jamie Langenbrunner), they've been producing a lot of the offense. I'm getting paid to be an offensive guy and I've got to produce more."

Stewart scored for the Blues in Dallas, a 3-2 loss on Oct. 14. He hasn't found the back of the net since. But this is nothing new to the Toronto native.

He had an 11-game goalless streak a season ago with the Avs, along with 14- and 10-game streaks without scoring in 2009-10 and a nine-game drought his rookie season of 2008-09.

"I've been kind of known to be streaky," Stewart said. Which is why Stewart, Blues coach Davis Payne and Stewart's teammates aren't too worried about the production.

"I think it's going to come for him," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, Stewart's teammate in Colorado. "He's had some tough bounces. Sometimes that's the way it goes, especially for a goal scorer like him. Sometimes it doesn't fall into place.

"I'm not going to worry about it. He's going to put his points up. He always does. When they start going in off his legs, that's when you know he's got it going."
(Getty Images)
Chris Stewart (25) scores his first goal of season on Oct. 11 vs. Calgary.

When Stewart made his Blues debut last season against Anaheim, he potted two goals and had a penchant for scoring from in and around the crease -- or the blue paint. He's a big body at 6-foot-2, 232 pounds, which makes it tough for opposing teams to clear him out of the crease.

But is Stewart getting into scoring areas in this early part of the season? Some have quietly wondered if he's getting into those right areas.

"It was a little better in Edmonton," Payne said. "You look back at that game, he had a couple scoring chances. One on the rush, a couple in interior situations that didn't go but had the one where he was there on the power play and the whole slot area gets cleaned out and Petro winds up scoring the goal.

"It's closer. The more it becomes consistent, the better off he's going to be."

It's no coincidence that the Blues' struggles on the power play (3-for-36, which is 30th in the league at 8.3 percent) coincides with Stewart's inability to put the puck in the net. He's a big part of the Blues' man advantage.

"I've gotta get some quality chances," Stewart said. "Our PP's been struggling, too. I just have to put the first 11 games behind me and start fresh on Friday.

"We went through a streak last year where they'd hit me and go in. Now I can't shoot them in. ... I'm getting my shots, I'm getting my chances."

Stewart, who's been playing mostly with Patrik Berglund as his center, is in fact getting pucks to the net. He leads the team with 37 shots on goal (a shade under 3.4 per game) but with only two of them going in, that's only 5.4 percent shooting percentage.

It makes one wonder if sometimes Stewart's not squeezing the stick right now trying to rid himself of that monkey.

"It definitely gets in your head," Shattenkirk said. "It's something he's addressed. He knows that it's there. He's done a good job of not trying to force it as much. I think he knows that when things aren't working out for him, the thing he does best is he just goes right to the net."

Berglund, who also has cooled off with three goals and five points in 11 games, said there's no doubt Stewart will eventually get it going.

"He still has all the scoring abilities," Berglund said. "... We're spending too much time in our own zone. When we get the puck, we're pretty gassed and we have to change.

"We just have to simplify our decisions in the d-zone, support each other and then when we get into the o-zone, we have energy. When we have energy, we're really dangerous players down there. It's just some small details that we have to work with."

Can Stewart alleviate his early-season drought by changing his game up? Becoming more physical, if need be?

"Is he going to be a player that chases hits around all over the ice? That's not his game," Payne said. "I think his game is about being physical when the opportunity is there, finishing a guy when he's got him vulnerable and in on the forecheck ... winning those battles inside the dot lines. That's where he makes his living. If he's physical in those areas, we'll take that.

"When you're talking about an offense, sometimes it's like trying to call a cat. Sometimes it doesn't listen. You've just got to be very loyal to the rest of your game and if you're in the right position and getting to the right areas of the ice, you'll get your chances."

Which Stewart believes will happen.

"It's just a matter of when," Stewart said. "I'm not going to worry about it too much or read into it. It's a long year. We want to be playing our best hockey when it counts. I'm not saying now doesn't count, but I'll get back on track."

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