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The sixth game of an eight-game exhibition schedule for the Blue Jackets takes place tonight at Nationwide Arena, and just as he said he would, coach Todd Richards is approaching preseason with a purpose. Columbus is expected to dress a lineup filled with veterans and "regular" players tonight against the Minnesota Wild, and that roster includes No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who was solid between the pipes in the Blue Jackets' 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
Nevermind their record of 4-1-0 to this point. The Blue Jackets, regardless of result, have to pleased with the play of their top players. Many of those players are in the lineup tonight, while the Wild is bringing a relatively youthful group to Columbus.
Here are complete rosters for tonight's 7 p.m. start at Nationwide Arena...
Forwards: Anisimov, Atkinson, Bass, Chaput, Comeau, Craig, Dubinsky, Foligno, Gaborik, Jenner, MacKenzie, Skille
Defense: Erixon, Johnson, Murray, Prout, Tyutin, Wisniewski
Goaltenders: Bobrovsky, McKenna
Forwards: Zucker, Mitchell, Dowell, Brodziak, Niederreiter, Cooke, McMillan, Steckel, Fontaine, Graovac, Foucault, Haula, Phillips
Defense: Ballard, Stoner, Blum, Prosser, Landry, Kampfer, Dumba
Goaltenders: Harding, Kuemper
Richards said after Sunday's practice that he was really pleased with the pace and intensity his team played with in Pittsburgh. Both he and the players said it felt like a regular season game right off the bat, with a couple of early hits and some nastiness after the whistles to jump-start it.
The Blue Jackets went into St. Paul last week and, thanks to a stellar performance in goal from Jeremy Smith, came away with a 3-1 win that included equally strong efforts from their younger players. Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson and others played well in Minnesota and helped the Blue Jackets get above the .500 mark in preseason play.
For Columbus, it's now about ramping up to full speed with the regular season fewer than a dozen days away. They need to settle on not just line combinations, but a final roster that still needs 10 cuts before they're good to go. Those on the bubble have a couple of opportunities left to state their case, and those on the outside looking in are running out of time. The Blue Jackets are facing a young Minnesota lineup tonight at Nationwide Arena, but one full of NHL hopefuls that head coach Mike Yeo will have a watchful eye on throughout.
Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to play the full game, Richards said, and he will make one more preseason start after tonight (likely Thursday at home against Carolina).
One item of particular interest: does the Jenner-Dubinsky-Gaborik trio remain intact for a third consecutive game? After another impressive showing in Pittsburgh, it'll be hard to split them up. Dubinsky had a four-point game, Gaborik chipped in a couple of assists and Jenner tallied the game-winning goal in the third period. If that's the case and they stay together, the next thing to watch is how the lines fill in beneath them. Artem Anisimov is likely to anchor the No. 2 line, but his linemates are anything but settled upon.