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 the Sabres’ game against 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 one goal and two points in 21 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. He scored the tying goal Nov. 2 against Detroit, his only score in his last 41 appearances 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.
“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.”