Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart

Hitchcock sends message, drops Stewart to fourth line


With just 11 goals and 22 points in 53 games, this hasn’t been a season to remember for Chris Stewart.

His head coach, however, is making sure he’ll never forget it.

After a disappointing effort in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Columbus, Stewart was bounced to St. Louis’ fourth line during Wednesday’s practice — a move both he and coach Ken Hitchcock saw as a major message.

“It’s obviously a message — message loud and clear,” Stewart told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’ve been in this position before, just got to get back to work. I’m 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.”

Stewart skated at practice with center Scott Nichol and left winger Chris Porter. It’s a significant fall from grace for a guy that posted back-to-back 28-goal seasons and was once regarded as one of the game’s best young power forwards.

Hitchcock knows about Stewart’s scoring prowess, but said the demotion was more about his overall game, not his recent inability to put the puck in the net.

“Before you can think about scoring goals, you’ve got to start to work,” Hitch explained. “Does this get his attention and do all that stuff? We’ll see, but we need him to have way more impact on the game. He’s too good a player to just go quietly by the night.”

It’ll be very interesting to see how this situation plays out. The Blues are playing extremely well and still in the chase for top spot in the Western Conference but Stewart, who is in the final year of a two-year, $5.75 million deal, has been a major disappointment.

That said, the 24-year-old claims he’s working hard and giving it 100 percent.

“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.”

Video: Gaudreau, Ryan, Orlov star in Goals of the Week

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Three stellar individual efforts in our latest offering.

First up, it’s red-hot Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan, with his third-period goal in an eventual OT loss to Detroit. Ryan now has 20 points in 21 games this season, and six in his last five.

Next, it’s Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, who walked off what was arguably the Flames’ best win of the year — a 2-1 OT victory over the defending champion Blackhawks.

Finally, it’s Caps blueliner Dmitry Orlov, with one of the weirdest-looking goals in recent memory.

From the Washington Post:

“No one knew where the puck was,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said.

“Houdini,” goaltender Braden Holtby said.

“I had no clue,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought it was in the stands. I had no idea.”

The goal was also Orlov’s second of the season, meaning he’s just one shy of matching his career best.

After 20-game absence, Elias to make season debut for Devils

Patrik Elias
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It took a while, but Patrik Elias‘ campaign is ready to get underway.

Elias, who’s yet to play this year because of a knee injury, says he’ll be in the New Jersey lineup tonight when the Devils host the Blue Jackets at Prudential (per The Record).

The 39-year-old’s presence should provide an emotional lift in front of the home crowd.

A lifelong Devil — only Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur have appeared in more games — fans may be witnessing Elias’ last year in uniform. It’s fair to suggest he could be on the verge of retirement, given he’s in the last of a three-year, $16.5 million deal and will turn 40 in April.

As for tonight, it’s not yet official who Elias will play with — or how much he’ll play. He did take line rushes with Jacob Josefson and Stefan Matteau at Tuesday’s practice.

After three-game absence, Johnson back for Bolts this week

Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Johnson
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The Lightning have a busy stretch of the schedule coming up, with three games in the next four nights.

And it sounds like they’ll get a big lineup reinforcement to help them through it.

Per LA Kings Insider — the Kings are in Tampa tonight — Bolts head coach Jon Cooper confirmed that Tyler Johnson will be back in the lineup “at some point” this week, after missing the last three games with an upper-body injury.

Johnson has been out of the lineup since taking a Dave Bolland hit on Nov. 14. The timing of the injury was lousy, especially since Johnson looked to be rounding into form — after a rough October in which he failed to score a goal and had just five points in 12 games, Johnson was playing well in November, with three goals and five points in his first six games.

There’s no denying the Bolts could use Johnson back in the mix.

The club has been ravaged by injury lately and is currently without the services of Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Cedric Paquette at forward.

The injuries are a big reason why Tampa is off to a mediocre 10-9-3 start. That said, the team has looked good in each of its last two games — a 2-1 win over the Rangers in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final, followed by a 5-0 blowout of the Ducks on Saturday.

As for when Johnson might get back in? The Bolts play tonight at home against L.A., on Friday in Washington, then back at home on Saturday against the Islanders.

Will the Bruins re-sign Loui Eriksson?

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Loui Eriksson, one of the key pieces Boston acquired in the Tyler Seguin trade, is in the last of his six-year, $25.5 million deal and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

And, at least for now, there doesn’t appear to be much certainty about his future as a Bruin.

“I’ll never, ever comment publicly in regard to individual players and negotiations and such,” B’s GM Don Sweeney told the Boston Herald this week. “Whether (comments) come out from the other side or wherever, they’re not going to come from me.

“He’s a big part of our team and he’s off to a really good start.”

Eriksson is certainly off to a good start — nine goals and 18 points in 20 games, his highest points-per-game average (.90) since coming to Boston, and the second-highest of his career.

He’s also playing nearly 20 minutes per night, enjoying great chemistry playing alongside David Krejci and, after an injury-riddled first year as a Bruin followed by last year’s playoff miss, seems to have really found his groove.

So why the silence on the extension front?

Two weeks ago, Eriksson told the Globe his agent, J.P. Barry, hasn’t had any discussions with Sweeney about re-signing in Boston.

“There’s not much you can really do about it now,” the 30-year-old Swede explained. “I’m trying to focus on playing good and trying to help this team as much as possible. Then we’ll see what happens after this year.”

Obviously, money is a factor.

Looking ahead, Boston’s current cap crunch doesn’t project to get much lighter. The club already has $61 million in salary committed for next season (per War On Ice), and Sweeney has to be mindful of other important contracts on the horizon.

Torey Krug is a restricted free agent at year’s end, and in line for a raise on the $3.4 million he made this season. Brad Marchand will be a UFA following the ’16-17 campaign.

And you’d think Sweeney would want to keep money free to eventually sort out Boston’s defense. The blueline has been an issue this season; it’s also getting old and will likely need an injection of new blood in the near future.

There’s also the question if, should he head to free agency, Eriksson couldn’t be replaced internally. The B’s are flush with young wingers — Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Seth Griffith, David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Alexander Khokhlachev are all 26 or under — which could make Eriksson expendable.