Even with Colorado, Stewart's game was never really toughness around the net. It was that he had a quality shot when coming in on the rush with speed. To say he has to show his toughness around the net – yes, I think that's what he has to do to be effective on offense with the crash-the-net style the Blues play – is also to say he has to play a totally different game than he really ever has.
In 79 games, he had 15 goals, 15 assists. That means he's probably looking at 1 G, 1 A in a five-game series if his season-long expectation holds. He's not likely to be a primary scorer. We're all open to being pleasantly surprised, but what we ned more than anything is him not giving away two scoring chances the other way via decisions he makes in that same five-game stretch or he might as well not be out there. The Blues need Stewart to play a fairly simple game. Take a scoring opportunity on the rush if it arises, but especially battle extremely hard defensively. There are other Blues players who've carried the offensive load this year and can.
So Stewart really hasn't been integral to the winning formula in terms of offensive production and while nobody would turn a burst of points down, what he needs to do more than anything is use his speed, size and determination to fight for pucks along the boards enough to defend against someone like Ryane Clowe. If he can simply be tough to play against defensively and not make mental errors, but instead simply neutralize the offense of one of the guys on the Sharks' top two lines, he will be doing something very effective. Honestly it's when he dedicates himself to that kind of play fully that he may earn some luck for a scoring chance here or there. He's roughly the offensive equivalent of D'Ags but he's bigger bodied and seems to have some more desperation in his game recently. Not every single shift, but more to the point where it's noticeable. If he's working on Clowe, McDonald's working on Havlat and Berglund's on Couture (when the Blues have home ice), and the Backes line can at least hold even with the Thornton line, I like Steen-Arnott-Langenbrunner to have enough offensive pop and playoff poise to be a difference-making line with its matchup.
*Colaiacovo is even higher than this at .30 PPG, to give you an idea of where we're at comparison-wise. Cole's at .35 for the Blues, etc.
You can see where the strength of these teams is – the Blues have scoring spread out over a variety of versatile two-way players, who generally are faster than the Sharks and generally bigger than the Sharks, though the Sharks aren't a small team. Handzus is their 7th best offensive forward. The Blues counter in that offensive production range with Berglund, Stewart, Langenbrunner and D'Agostini. Big edge there for the Blues. In a long, physical series, if the Blues can continue to bottle up the top two lines as they've done in the regular season contests, you're then taking your chances on Halak (or Elliott) versus a roster of bottom-six forwards who average about a point every four games at best (Handzus one every three games).
Imagine you're the Sharks and you're used to relying on the top end skill of your big two lines to win you games. Now there's a swarming bunch of Blues players not giving them any ice over and over and over and over, shift after shift after shift. And their top guy, who's never been able to overcome that kind of playoff intensity, starts getting frustrated. As the series wears on things get more bleak. You know that feeling when it feels like it takes the most monumental effort to be lucky to get one goal? And meanwhile you have to hope Antti Niemi shuts the door? Not comfortable.
The only way out is the Sharks are going to have to find some way to make their power play work and the Blues are going to have to keep up the one thing that hasn't faltered in the last two weeks – their penalty kill. But the Blues will have to be disciplined. There will be delay of games and inadvertent high sticks – the sort of penalties that just happen – but they can't take retaliation penalties and they can't get caught flat or they start reaching on holding, tripping, hooking, slashing trying to catch up with their sticks instead of moving their feet.
Blues are on an 0-for-19 run on the PP to end the regular season and the Sharks allowed SIX power play goals to LA over the last two games. Someone's getting fixed against someone with that matchup.
That's the point I was trying to make his biggest problem this season IMO is his rushing game it hasn't worked for him, he either makes bad passes that result in turnovers or tries to skate around the d'man instead of just chipping it in the corner.
I think his toughness around the net is the only part of his game where he has been successful... I noticed he's also good at tipping shots from the point and deflecting passes towards the net. I will say at least his last few games the effort is there and he looks motivated. I pretty much agree with everything else you said though.
The Blues had two goals on the powerplay last night. Obviously not against the type of talent that they'll be facing in the Sharks, but it might jump start them. Neither goal was really the product of having the man advantage though. Two shots low stick side. Petro needs to keep shooting the puck on PP like he was on that 33 points in 33 games or whatever it was. That, along with Mac on the half boards, is when the Blues power play is at it's best.
Stewart is playing with intensity and effort, and appears to be taking coaching. I think he's put himself in a position for Hitch to use him effectively on the playoff lines.
The last few games, I continually saw him checking back hard and flying around in the offensive zone holding the puck in and creating enough scoring chances to be a contributor. He's fitting the structure better than D'Ags right now, and well enough to be trusted.
Although chemistry-wise we'll have to see, I think sliding him up to the 2nd line is reasonable. If that's the case, I'd expect the 3 lines to roll, and the 4th line to be a hard-hitting energy line that continues to get less minutes (rather than trying to include Schwartz/D'Ags and have a 4th skilled line). Unfortunately, a 4th skilled line seemed to give the Blues a defensive susceptibility that outweighed the offensive threat.
I think if the Blues win the battle of PK vs PP, they win this series. But San Jose has been given new life after the threat of missing the playoffs.
Man I can't wait to see how Hitch coaches this, but I like the matchup.