By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The message was sent to Chris Stewart. In a way, it's a similar scenario when he was benched two seasons ago when the Blues' power forward wasn't playing up to potential.
Stewart, who played only 5 minutes 32 seconds in Saturday's 4-3 shootout win against the New York Islanders, has one assist in eight games and is a minus-5 in the past 10 games.
Stewart will line up as a fourth-line right wing today when the Blues (35-11-5) play host to the New Jersey Devils (22-20-11) at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM)
"It's obviously a message," Stewart said Tuesday after the morning skate. "So, the message has been delivered and it's how you respond. I can't worry about who I'm playing (with) or all that other stuff. I have to worry about what I can control, and that's how I play. So I have to stick with it here and try to raise my level of play."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who has 23 players at his disposal, has been asked the past two days whether Stewart, who has 15 goals and 25 points in 51 games, is a candidate to be a healthy scratch ... just like two seasons ago. Hitchcock said not yet, but based on the limited number of minutes in this recent stretch, it can't be far off unless Stewart becomes a more consistent player.
"Just north, a north game. Not east-west," Hitchcock said when asked what he's looking for from Stewart. "Stay focused in what your strengths are. Don't try to force offense.
"I think sometimes when you have skill people and they're not getting opportunities, they force offense and it ends up being worse. Just stay on the north concept and things will work out fine."
Magnus Paajarvi, a healthy scratch Saturday, will come back into the lineup tonight, which means Hitchcock has a decision to make who will sit.
Ryan Reaves has been taking shifts on the top line the past two days based on Alexander Steen's unavailability to practice because of a toe fracture. Steen will play tonight, and although Hitchcock wouldn't reveal who will sit, it appears Reaves is the candidate based on the Devils not rostering an enforcer-type of a player.
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The Blues had a short memory after their last encounter with the Devils.
However, they had no choice but to be given a stern reminder that the worst loss of the season the Blues suffered at the hands of the Devils exactly one week ago. But instead of having revenge on their minds, the Blues must look at it more as redemption when the two teams meet for the second and final time this season tonight at Scottrade Center.
The Devils, coming off a 7-3 loss of their own to the New York Rangers Sunday at Yankee Stadium as part of the Coors Light Stadium Series, embarrassed the Blues 7-1 in the only loss the Blues suffered on their recent four-game trip.
Instead of completely forgetting about it and wiping the slate clean, the Blues will get their chance at redemption quickly.
"The way the game went, it wasn't very good on our half," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "It's kind of rare that you do get them so close together, but we're looking to have a much better effort.
"We were guilty of a lot of things, turning pucks over, not forechecking and that sort of thing. It all goes hand in hand. They've got skilled guys. They're a big team. They play down low and they look for that transition. We've got to be much better 5-on-5 and our penalty kill wasn't very good either."
The Devils chased Brian Elliott from goal in the first period last week, and they built a 2-0 lead less than three minutes into the game and never looked back. The Blues would go on to recover in victories against the Rangers and New York Islanders, but coach Ken Hitchcock said the Blues need to be more responsible with the puck.
"Obvious for us, puck management," Hitchcock said. "We got into a track meet and stumbled around and turned way too many pucks over and that gave them ... they're a very good rush-attack team. They're very smart, they've got great patience with the puck. If you give them opportunities, 3-on-2's or whatever, they're going to burn you."
Hitchcock added: "We recovered nicely. Other than Detroit, we had slow starts in the other games, but really recovered nicely in New York against the Rangers and then against the Islanders, I thought the third period was the best period we played on the whole road trip. All in all, if you look at the record, 3-1 is pretty good. But now as I said to the players, five of the next six are at home. We have a chance to catch Chicago for the division lead now. It's right in front of us. We've just got to play well and take advantage of it."
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Once again, the Blues got energy from their fourth line players after falling behind 2-0 in Saturday's come-from-behind win against the Islanders.
Led by Maxim Lapierre, Reaves and Brenden Morrow, when the Blues needed a boost, the energy and grind line provided the spark that resulted in a shootout victory.
"We were taking pride in that," Lapierre said. "We want to be ready the first shift and bring a lot of energy. You don't have to go and hit everybody. Just maybe have some traffic at the net and shoot the puck and maybe bring some speed. That's our game plan. We always want to be really strong on the first shift.
"When you see a line that hits and brings energy, it gets everybody going. When the fourth line goes, you can play them a little more and it gives guys a little rest and they're a little more energized to go on the ice."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen
Vladimir Sobotka-Derek Roy-Vladimir Tarasenko
Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Brenden Morrow-Maxim Lapierre-Chris Stewart
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak will start in goal. Brian Elliott is the backup.
Healthy scratches include Jordan Leopold, Carlo Colaiacovo and Ryan Reaves.
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The Devils' projected lineup:
Jacob Josefson-Travis Zajac-Jaromir Jagr
Dainius Zubrus-Patrik Elias-Damien Brunner
Ryane Clowe-Adam Henrique-Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter-Stephen Gionta-Steve Bernier
Andy Greene-Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador-Marek Zidlicky
Eric Gelinas-Anton Volchenkov
Cory Schneider will start in goal. Martin Brodeur will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Andrei Loktionov and Jon Merrill. Peter Harrold (foot) is on injured reserve.