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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline

Aaron Portzline,  the beat writer for the Columbus Dispatch, was kind enough to answer a few of Bartl’s questions before tonight’s Blackhawks-Blue Jackets matchup at the United Center. Much like Wednesday, playoff positioning is the story as we get into the stretch run. You can check out Aaron’s coverage on the Puck-Rakers Blog on the Dispatch’s website. Enjoy!

Click the jump for the Q&A with Aaron Portzline

Bartl: You’ve seen the Blackhawks four times this season, with the ‘Hawks taking three meetings. What are your impressions and how do the Blue Jackets’ strengths/weaknesses matchup with those of the ‘Hawks?

Portzline: Hard to get a read on either team head-to-head, because the games have been so unpredictable and wide-open, even the last couple seasons. When the Blue Jackets are going well, they’re forechecking as if their hair is on fire. It’s the only way they can take away Chicago’s — or any other talented team’s — skill advantage, by taking away time and space. The Blue Jackets have struggled to stop Patrick Sharp, but Patrick Sharp has struggled defensively against Columbus, too. That sort of explains the head-to-head.

Bartl: Both the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets have been banged up of late. What do you feel will be the difference tonight in a matchup of two teams desperately needing a victory – preferably in regulation – to keep pace in the West.

Portzline: The Blue Jackets have played exceptionally well on the road lately, with five straight wins and points in seven straight. They tend to skate harder and play a more direct game on the road. The big advantage the Blackhawks have is the mobility on their back end. If those guys — Keith, Seabrook, Campbell — have good games, it’s a huge advantage.

Bartl: Despite a good run recently, the Blue Jackets haven’t been able to gain much ground on the teams ahead of them. Do you feel their mid-season let down after a solid start may be too much to overcome?

Portzline: It sure looks that way. On Jan. 13, they were 13th in the West, 7 points out of eighth. They go 8-3-3 and are 12th, six points out of eighth. If they keep this up, they’ll be in the hunt until the final few days. But it’s hard to expect any team to roll like that for three months, let alone a club with a borderline skill level.

Bartl: How does Derick Brassard’s injury affect the Blue Jackets’ playoff push as they reach the stretch run of the season?

Portzline: It hurts them quite a bit. Brassard was starting to play his best hockey in almost two seasons, really clicking with Voracek and Nash on the No. 1 line. That group had 44 points in the last 14 games. They will miss him, and it’s a big setback for the kid. This is twice now he’s started to take off, only to get injured.

Bartl: Do you feel the Blue Jackets are buyers, sellers, or plan to stay pat as the trade deadline nears?

Portzline: My gut tells me they are sellers. But there are lots of moving parts between now and next Monday. Worst possible thing they could do is stand pat.

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