Hitchcock trying to send message to power forward that more is needed
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- In what seems like an ever-lasting time zone in which Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is trying to light a candle under underachieving power forward Chris Stewart was on full display Wednesday at practice.
Stewart, a top six forward by nature, was skating on the Blues' fourth line with Scott Nichol, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves, in an effort to find that spark plug that has mysteriously been hidden from a player that is coming off back-to-back 28-goal seasons.
"It's a working foundation," Hitchcock said. "You couldn't get a better worker than Scott Nichol. Before you can think about scoring goals, you've got to start to work. So we need a working foundation so we can get to the next end. Whether it's for one period, one shift, one game, 10 games ... who knows. We need the working foundation here.
The Blues would like to see a few more of these fist
pumps from Chris Stewart, who has underachieved with
11 goals and 22 points in 53 games this season.
"We need a working foundation. When the work is there, the reward will be there.
Is this something Hitchcock has considered for a while with the enigmatic winger?
"Yes," he quickly replied.
Stewart, who has 11 goals and 22 points in 53 games this season, was one of the Blues' best skaters and performers in a full-scale practice Wednesday following a bad 2-1 loss at NHL-worst Columbus Tuesday night.
"It's obviously a message ... message loud and clear," Stewart said. "I've been in this position before ... just got to get back to work. Obviously not contributing offensively and something had to be done. They feel like that's the right approach and I'll just go from there.
"It is what it is. I can't really do anything about it now. Come out tomorrow and put together a good first period and hopefully get back up there. Just take it one game at a time."
There have been rumblings as to whether Hitchcock would consider sitting Stewart a game or two to get the message across.
"No, but we need to see more," Hitchcock said. "We need to see more work, more second and third effort so his skill can take over.
"He's got elite skill. We just need to see more. Your skill can't come out until the work foundation's in place."
Stewart has two points (a goal and an assist in the game at New Jersey) in his last seven games. When he produces, the skill-set seems to be out in full force. Then there's games like Tuesday night, when Stewart was staring at an open net. He goes to the backhand -- a soft shot that if adds authority to it the puck easily goes in -- but Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski was able to corral it at the goal line and keep it from going in.
"I'm not worried about that. That's not relevant," Hitchcock said. "Those things happen in a game. I'm talking about the impact of it on a game. We need him to have more impact on the game. He's a good player that needs to have more impact on the game.
"It's not a boiling point. It's just a matter-of-fact point. You have to base your team on work ethic ... and we need more. We need more work. The scoring will take care of itself if we get a little more work. More determination, more work. As soon as we see it, then it's like anybody else ... the reward will come."
Stewart said it's not from a lack of trying.
When on his game, Chris Stewart is among the best all-around power
forwards in the game.
"Yeah. I mean, I'm obviously out there trying, giving it my all every night," he said. "But at the end of the day, if they don't feel that's good enough, then I've got to show more. It's up to them to give me the job description and up to me to do it. The good thing about this game is we've got another game tomorrow, come out and give it my best."
Hitchcock hopes a "demotion" to the fourth line can be the wake-up Stewart needs. He had 15 goals in 28 games last season when acquired from Colorado.
"We'll see, but we need him to have way more impact on the game," Hitchcock said. "He's too good a player to just go quietly by the night.
"It's a competitive league based on second and third efforts. That's what the league is. Coaches reward effort, so we just need to see more ... and let the skill take over from the third effort.
"I know playing with Scott, and whether it's with Revo or whether it's Porter or whatever, they'll work. We'll see where it goes."
Added Stewart: "That's been my whole career. I feel like I hold my own cards in my own hand. It's up to me to do it."