Columbus Blue Jackets Face Tough Test in Return From All-Star Break

Patrick DrottarCorrespondent IFebruary 1, 2011

ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 07:  Antoine Vermette #50 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on January 7, 2011 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Columbus Blue Jackets entered the All-Star break with points in five of their last six games. Now the Jackets look to continue their elevated play tonight when they face a tough Chicago Blackhawks team at Nationwide Arena.

Columbus is currently in 13th place in the Western Conference, but only five points behind the eighth-place Colorado Avalanche. Tonight's game is an important one for several reasons.

One reason is the fact that the Blue Jackets could make up a lot of ground tonight with a win. The NHL is chock full of games tonight, including ones featuring teams currently ranked sixth through 12th. Columbus has to leapfrog several teams to put itself in playoff contention.

They currently sit three points behind 12th place Calgary and four points from Minnesota and Los Angeles, who are on tap to face each other tonight in St. Paul. So with a Blue Jackets win, Columbus could inch its way closer to pass at least one team.

Another reason is the Blue Jackets need to show the rest of the league that they can be playoff contenders. In order to have any shot of making it to the postseason this year, the Jackets are going to have to get to the 95-point region, which is the number of points last year's eighth place team had at the end of the season.

These next few games for Columbus are also going to decide whether the Blue Jackets are buyers or sellers come the trade deadline. According to the rumor mill on, the Blue Jackets may be parting with such players as Jan Hejda or Samuel Pahlsson to bring in that "blockbuster" trade GM Scott Howson has been talking about.

If the Blue Jackets are able to string together some wins in the upcoming days, we could see Columbus' phone lines become busier and busier.

So as you can see, tonight's game against the Hawks is anything but ordinary. The Blue Jackets had a tough practice yesterday, so that everyone could get back into the swing of things after their break. They will have to come out strong as Chicago dominated the Jackets the last time these two teams met in Chicago.

It has been reported that goaltender Marty Turco will be in net for Chicago tonight. Turco has struggled this year, going 10-10-2 and allowing close to three goals a game on average while serving as the backup for youngster Corey Crawford.

The Blue Jackets will be without defenseman Rostislav Klesla tonight as he is still recovering from the knee injury he suffered against St. Louis on January 22.