Pre-season is often not considered to be "important." The games don't count against the standings, but they do count for the prospects looking to crack the roster. The coaching staff will be paying close attention to what they do tonight. They're no longer playing against their teammates in a scrimmage, or in a drill - those kind of things give a coaching staff a good look at basic abilities, but not how the players will react when they're in an NHL arena, on NHL ice, playing against another team in an NHL game. Yes, the opposition's made up of just as many scared rookies, but they have the same goals - make the team. Preseason tilts are often played a lot harder than expected - the kids need to make impressions, and the vets need to show the coaching staff where they belong on the team.
Tonight's roster will look like this:
Evander Kane- Alex Burmistrov- Anthony Stewart
Nigel Dawes- Bryan Little- Fredrik Pettersson
Danick Paquette- Riley Holzapfel- Akim Aliu
Ben Eager- Patrick Rissmiller- Spencer Machacek
Ron Hainsey-Jamie Sifers
Arturs Kulda- Freddy Meyer
Boris Valabik- Andrey Zubarev
Bryan Little's been moved back to his natural position at center, which will take some adjustment for him. The line that he is centering is the smallest line out there tonight size wise, but also potentially the most lethal. The third line will be fast, pushy, and able to score. Burmistrov has a lot to show in his placement - with the loss of Cormier, he's a frontrunner for that open center position. He stepped it up in camp yesterday, and that needs to continue today. Pavelec and MacIntyre should switch out after the second period to give both goalies a chance to play.
Ron Hainsey is the only defenseman out tonight who is assured of a position on the team, and who doesn't have anything to prove. Everyone else's fighting for the 7th defenseman position. Only Boris Valabik's held that job long term on the Thrashers. It'll possibly come down to a fight between himself and Arturs Kulda for that position.
Columbus was kind enough to post a roster (without lines) for tonight's game. It will be mostly a rookie squad, as the big guns usually stay at home for road pre-season games. Goaltenders will be David LeNeveu and Mathieu Garon for the Blue Jackets. They'll probably switch out after two periods as well. Garon was 2-0 against the Thrashers last season with a 2.00 GAA and a .938SV%, so if Atlanta wants to win, they need to light the lamp in the first two periods.