Photo: John Grieshop/Getty Images

It was less than one week ago that I was typing, “The Blackhawks are in first place in the Western Conference…” A lot can change in a week, huh? Not that we’ve dropped too far in the standings, but if we keep playing like we have been we’ll find ourselves battling the Columbus Blue Jackets for the coveted spot in the Western Conference basement. And wow, is Columbus ever in the basement.

This is the second meeting between these two teams, and I wrote in the first game preview that Columbus had a 1-8-1 record. Well, not a lot has changed: they have added 1 win and 3 losses. They are the proud owners of 5 (that’s “five”) points. As a matter of rub-it-in trivia, even if they had twice as many points, they would still be in last place in the West.

If you were wondering why there are so many teams bunched up so closely at the top of the Western Conference standings, it’s because every other team has been beating on Columbus like a red-headed step-pinata.

For this particular squad, I have the added benefit of spending half my time in the lion’s den: I find myself in Columbus 4 days a week for a work assignment, and that is likely to last throughout the season. So I have a front-row seat for the unfettered suckiness that is the Columbus Blue Jackets. From what I can tell, even die-hard fans are already saying, “So, the amateur draft is in June, right?”

Speaking of front-row seats, I could get a single to tonight’s game, four rows off the glass, for just over $100; and that’s direct from the team web site. So if you’re thinking of taking a Blackhawks road trip, there are really good seats available in Columbus — at kooky-low prices. Just stay away from the Knight’s Inn on West Broad Street. Eeeeeeeeyyyikes…

But I digress.

I saw the Versus/NBC Sports guys doing some analysis of the Columbus defense the other day, and they hit the nail right on the head: they do not have a number 1/2 pair. James Wisniewski is arguably your “best” guy, and he’s a #3 or #4 on a lot of teams in the league. From there, the blueline corps ranges down from #5’s and #6’s to guys that make you wonder why they aren’t in the AHL. With the most goals-against in the West, second-worst in the league, their defense’s poor play and lack of skill is showing.

And the porous defense just makes the marked absence of a quality starting goaltender all the more pronounced. As I said before, Steve Mason is simply not capable of carrying this team. Backups Allen York and Curtis Sanford have barely enough talent to play as backups in the minors, and their stats show it. This combination means that Columbus is hoping to win games 7-6, something their offense is simply not capable of delivering. The latest humiliation: a 9-2 beat-down at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers last Saturday.

But while the situation in Columbus is dire and descending, all is not well in the Blackhawks organ-eye-zation either. Following the ass-whooping we suffered at the hands of arch-rival Vancouver on Sunday, Head Coach Joel Quenneville went into his bag of line-juggling tricks and orchestrated a performance worthy of a AAA Bantam team in middle Saskatchewan as the ‘Hawks lost to the Blues 3-0.

But despite the dismal result, Q the Mad Scientist was at it again at practice on Wednesday — this time out of necessity. Center Dave Bolland took a shot to the foot during the St. Louis game, and is questionable for tonight’s tilt in Columbus. With Bolland out, here are the combinations you are likely to see:

Viktor Stalberg – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa

Patrick Sharp – Patrick Kane – Daniel Carcillo

Bryan Bickell – Marcus Kruger – Michael Frolik

Andrew Brunette – Jamal Mayers – Rostislav Olesz

There are many options available to a coach when one of their go-to guys is out with an injury, but this kind of 52-pick-up line juggling smacks of pure desperation. To underscore that assertion, the second power play unit has defenseman Steve Montador playing the “traffic” position in front of the net. If this is the best that Q can come up with given the level of talent he has at his disposal, I must say: I’m losing faith.

Miscellaneous detritus: Columbus acquired young center Mark Letestu from Pittsburgh late Tuesday night. I think hoping that he will be the spark their offense needs is, perhaps, a little far-fetched. On the injury front, Duncan Keith played against St. Louis, and should be considered “back” after his hand injury last week; and the afore-mentioned Dave Bolland is a game-time decision. For the Blue Jackets, goaltender Curtis Sanford is sidelined with a groin injury; also out are defensemen Kris Russell and Radek Martinek, as well as wingers Kristian Huselius and Jared Boll. Off-season acquisition and purported savior Jeff Carter did attempt to skate yesterday, but was quickly off the ice: he is not ready to return to action quite yet. Corey Crawford is the rumored started for Chicago, and we should see Steve Mason between the pipes for Columbus.

6:00pm puck drop at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. Comcast SportsNet has the TV coverage; WGN AM-720 for broadcast radio listeners; XM subscribers can find the game on channel 212; Sirius Premiere customers should look for the game on channel 211.

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