Is Chris Stewart Heating Up?
As a whole the St. Louis Blues have rarely disappointed since Ken Hitchock took over 13 games into the 2011-12 season. Since his arrival nearly every skater on the roster has brought his game to a new level, propelling the Blues into a battle for the top spot not only in their division and conference but in the entire league. One exemption to this rule is Chris Stewart who has struggled mightily for the bulk of the 2011-12 campaign. As the season enters the last couple weeks, is Stewart finally getting his act together? Or do the statistics indicate that his struggles are continuing? This is a bit of a loaded question. Stewart has shown glimpses of his former self at various stages of the year. However, for the most part he has looked like a different player than we saw in 2010-11, one that rarely has an impact in the outcome of the game. To get an idea of what Stewart's season has looked like refer to the monthly breakdown below. October: 11 games - 2 goals, 1 assist, 25 PIM. November: 10 games - 1 goal, 3 assists, 19 PIM. December: 14 games - 4 goals, 3 assists, 6 PIM. January: 11 games - 3 goals, 3 assists, 28 PIM. February: 15 games - 4 goals, 1 assist 2 PIM. March: 5 games - 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 PIM. The above paints a cloudy picture. Stewart has been rather mediocre all season long, with seven points in December representing his best month of the season. There are no clear statistical signs that Stewart is improving or heating up as we enter the last gasp of 2011-12. He has cut down on his time spent in the penalty box, a plus, but this hasn't carried over to a big boost in offensive production. These points aside, there are indications that aren't in the statistics that Stewart is carrying his weight more now than ever before. The last two months have seen Stewart begin to show signs of the dangerous forward we saw last season. He has been better using his body to shield the puck. He has done a better job of maintaining possession and finding areas of the ice that lead to high percentage opportunities. He has worked harder than he did earlier in the year, battling more for pucks and skating with a purpose. Unfortunately, he hasn't been rewarded for his hard work as often as any of us would like. Saturday's game against Columbus saw Stewart bury a timely goal to give the Blues a 2-1 lead at a pivotal time in the contest. The goal was vintage Stewart. He drove down the wing, cut towards the net and released an extremely accurate backhander that found the roof of the net - video below. Dear Chris - more of this please. Stewart has had his moments of bad luck this season. With an empty net to shoot at, the puck always seems to roll on Stewart forcing his shot high or wide. You can't really put a number or a stat on these opportunities but it is safe to saw that Stewart could easily have several more goals on his yearly tally if more breaks were going his way. The above goal is promising. This is the kind of talent we all were expecting from Stewart heading into the season. We believed he could likely be a top line threat, one capable of scoring 30+ or even flirting with 40. It's time to put all of those missed expectations and failed hopes behind us and accept Stewart as he is now - a man trying to finish the current campaign as best he can. The Blues have been fine without Stewart firing on all cylinders as evidenced by their overall record. However, having Stewart clicking offensively would give the Blues a huge asset heading into the playoffs. He would give opposing teams yet another weapon to worry about, potentially leaving other players open to capitalize on opportunities. Following 2011-12, the Blues will have to make a tough decision. Should Stewart be brought back beyond 2011-12? His contract is set to expire and it's believed that numerous teams around the NHL would be interested in his services. If the Blues decide to bring him back, what type of contract are we talking about? Obviously the Blues have to be careful with their finances and aren't in a position to hand out bloated contracts. Personally, I'd like to see Stewart in St. Louis beyond the current year. I'm ready to write off 2011-12 and pay him (within reason) based on the belief that his true talent and true form is what we saw last year and the year before. Thankfully, that decision doesn't need to be made any time soon. For now the Blues will have to hope that Stewart is finally warming up. If he is the Blues could be just that much stronger heading into the playoffs.