‘It’s obviously a message’: Stewart responds to low ice time, line demotion

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After playing a season-low 5:32 against the Islanders and getting dropped to the fourth line against the Devils, Chris Stewart didn’t need to be told what it all meant.

“It’s obviously a message,” Stewart said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “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.”

In the first of his two-year, $8.3 million extension — signed on the strength of last year’s 36-points-in-48-games performance — Stewart has been maddeningly inconsistent this season. On the surface, his 15 goals and 25 points through 52 games might seem OK, but eight of those goals came in a six-game span, and he has just two in his last 17 contests.

Saturday’s game on Long Island was one of his worst this season. Stewart was essentially parked, getting just three shifts in each period while sitting the final 11 minutes, and finished minus-2. The next game out, against the Devils, he was demoted to the fourth line alongside Maxim Lapierre and Brenden Morrow.

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock isn’t one to single out players, but appeared to be referencing Stewart when he said the Blues had “too many passengers” during a recent slump. Hitchcock also added that Stewart needs to play a more direct-line game.

“I need him to stay north, not go east and west,” Hitchcock said. “Sometimes when you have skill people and they’re not getting opportunities, they try to force offense and it ends up being worse.

“So just stay on the north concept and everything will work out fine.”