The St. Louis Blues have enjoyed a balanced offensive attack so far in 2013-14. David Backes and Alexander Steen have led the way, but the team has received contributions from Derek Roy, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko and a host of others. One name you'll notice is absent from this list is Chris Stewart. After signing a new contract over the summer, Stewart has struggled out of the gate.
Should we be concerned?
It's been easy to overlook Stewart's early struggles. The Blues have a strong 5-1-1 record and are averaging 3.71 goals per contest (3rd in the NHL). Players who traditionally stumble through the first few weeks (David Backes) are flying high. All of the positives have helped cover up some of the negatives.
Over seven games Stewart has two assists and is a (-3). He has fired 11 shots and has collected 19 penalty minutes. The stats are fairly mediocre, but they don't really tell the whole story. They don't capture the fact Stewart has been mostly absent this season. An entire period could pass and you may have heard Stewart's name only mentioned in passing by the broadcast team. This isn't to say he isn't working hard, but it seems like he is rarely involved in the thick of the action. He's been on the outside of the play, rarely influencing it as opposed to watching it play out.
Stewart's shifts usually start in the offensive zone of the ice. Some 65.9% of his shifts start in the opponent's end. Unfortunately, his shifts usually end in his own end. Only 44.1% of his shifts end in the offensive zone. It's a small sample size and other factors contribute here, but that's a troubling stat. However, Stewart's Corsi (goals, saves, missed shots and blocks expressed as a rate per 60 minutes) is 6.07. This ranks sixth on the Blues. The advanced stats are a bit divided, but it's clear that when it comes to pure production he is mostly invisible.
Stewart has also made some poor decisions. For instance, Stewart's fight against Sheldon Brookbank. Sure, it was fun to watch but Stewart is a much more valuable weapon out on the ice when he is trying to generate offense. Brookbank did his job by removing an offensive weapon from the ice. Stewart should have avoided the fight and channeled more effort into his contributions on the ice. You won't score too many goals sitting in the penalty box and Brookbank knew this and helped his team in the process.
Stewart's slow start comes on the heels of a new contract which instantly brings up the "motivation" debate. His new two-year, $8.3 million contract was given as a reward for his 36-point 2012-13 campaign. It's no wonder a player has a bit more incentive to work when a new contract hangs in the balance, but I don't think it's as big of a factor as some play it off to be. Stewart wants to prove he deserves his new contract. So far in 2013-14, he's just not competing with the usual drive and tenacity we saw through large stretches of 2012-13.
Stewart has the third largest contract of any St. Louis forward. It's time for him to play like it. It's a little bit too early to get too worked up over this, but it's a story we all should follow.