BUFFALO – The question made Chris Stewart pause for a moment.
“I’m searching for the right answer here,” the struggling winger said Wednesday prior to scoring a breakaway goal in the Sabres’ 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets inside the First Niagara Center.
Stewart, a two-time 28-goal scorer, has arguably been the Sabres’ biggest disappointment this season, compiling just two goals and three points in 22 games.
So much for that breakout season.
“It’s not where I want it to be, that’s for sure,” Stewart replied when asked about the state of his game.
Stewart has generated almost nothing. Wednesday’s nifty goal was just his third in 42 games, a stretch dating back to Jan. 9, when he played for St. Louis.
In September, Stewart joked about 2014-15 being “another biggest season of my career.” He spoke seriously about taking “the bull by the horns” and not leaving his career “in someone else’s hands.”
“You got to look at the big picture here,” Stewart said Wednesday. “I think there’s tons of time left to salvage this thing and have a good season. But the clock’s ticking. You definitely got to start turning it around, making changes now.”
Stewart enjoyed a strong preseason before starting the regular season with a 12-game goal drought. Wednesday’s goal was his first since Nov. 2.
“There’s no real excuses,” he said. “You take a look at the game sheet, you know you only have two points in 20 games, that’s ideally not where I planned on being, but you read into it or you’re just going to get down.”
The 27-year-old, an unrestricted free agent following the season, might be costing himself millions of dollars. His trade value has plummeted.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating,” Stewart said about his low output. “I think I’m a little too hard on myself, personally. I hold myself to high expectations. There’s definitely a lot riding on it. You hit that 20-game mark and you turn the page. You got three-quarters of the season to salvage something here and get it going.”
Of course, Stewart’s hardly alone. Center Cody Hodgson also began Wednesday with one goal and two points. Captain Brian Gionta has two goals. Winger Matt Moulson didn’t score until Nov. 7.
Stewart knows he can’t complain about a lack of opportunity. Sabres coach Ted Nolan loves big power forwards, and early on, he awarded the 6-foot-2, 231-pound veteran around 16 to 20 minutes a game.
Recently, however, Stewart has been demoted to fourth-line duty. His ice time dipped to a season-low eight minutes, 31 seconds Nov. 13.
“I’ve had more than ample opportunity here,” Stewart said. “It’s up to me to get it going. When things aren’t going well, you take a look in the mirror and start figuring things out.”
He added: “There’s some other guys going right now, so that definitely plays into the ice time perspective right now. I think when I’m going at the top of my game, I bring something that this team doesn’t have, and it’s up to me to bring it every game.”
Still, Nolan believes Stewart has been performing better recently.
“His game is where a lot of our play was,” Nolan said. “Slowly, people are starting to come out of it. Matty Moulson didn’t score for a while, now he’s going. Gionta, same thing, and Stewart’s the same thing.”
Naturally, the trying season has taken its toll on Stewart. The struggles sometimes accompany him home.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” he said.
But Stewart’s 6-month old twin boys, Christian and Connor, have given him a new perspective.
“I think that’s the best time for me,” Stewart said. “You get a chance just to forget about hockey and realize that there’s bigger things in life right now. It’s one of my true joys.”
Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, who blocked a wicked Alex Ovechkin shot with his left hand Saturday, was a surprise scratch late.
Myers practiced Tuesday and joined Monday’s session late. It appeared he was fine.
Nolan said the injury’s something different, however.
“He was feeling good,” Nolan said. “Then all of sudden, the injury just kind of went south on him. We were surprised a little. We got the call around 1 o’clock. He came in, tried to play, but just couldn’t do it.”
The Sabres officially called it a lower-body injury.
Andre Benoit replaced him.
Meanwhile, Sabres center Cody McCormick skated with his teammates Wednesday morning, another step in the concussion protocol he must follow. McCormick was hit in the head Saturday.
The 412-day wait to play a home game was excruciating for Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta, an Angola native.
Since his last appearance here Oct. 10, 2013, the 28-year-old endured a 10-game suspension, a surprising demotion to the minors, a torn ACL and what was basically a broken face.
He finally played again Wednesday.
Kaleta briefly left the game in the second period to have his jaw and teeth examined after Adam Lowry knocked him face-first into the boards, earning a game misconduct.
“I can’t feel them, but they’re still all there,” Kaleta said.
Earlier, the agitator immediately made his presence known, thumping a few Jets. His weak roughing penalty during his first shift led to Bryan Little’s goal.
“It was a reputation call,” Nolan said.
Playing at home was a special experience.
“Just to play at home for me is special, obviously for obvious reasons,” Kaleta said Wednesday morning. “It means a lot to me just to be able to play a game for Buffalo in Buffalo. So we can sit here and talk about that probably for about an hour. But you guys don’t know how much it means to me just to be able to put on a jersey.”
Kaleta even skated at center, a position he had never played as a pro.