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2015 Training Camp Round-up – Sept 30th

The competition for the final roster spots is picking up, but these exhibition games are starting to matter for teams as a whole.  After all, as we approach the end of the preseason, we're seeing squads utilize their veterans more and recognize that if there are any fundamental problems with their game, there's not a lot of time left to correct it before the opener.

We saw a couple of examples of that Tuesday night.  Tampa Bay suffered a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, frustrating Lightning captain Steven Stamkos in the process.

"I know it's only preseason, but we have two games left to get things going, so that's alarming," Stamkos said, according to the Tampa Bay Times' Joe Smith

He was specifically upset about what he saw as a sloppy game from Tampa Bay.  It doesn't help that the Lightning now have a 1-3-1 record in the preseason and while, again, it is just exhibition games, the possibility of bad habits from carrying into the regular season is noteworthy.

He's certainly not the only one that's taking these games seriously either.  Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock wasn't pleased with his players after Toronto's 4-0 loss to Buffalo Tuesday night.

"We've got to get our veterans playing the right way," Babcock said, per TSN. "That's the bottom line. We've got to get them playing. We can talk about kids; that's a nice sideline story in exhibition but you've got to get your players to play."

This preseason arguably has greater meaning for Toronto than most teams.  The Maple Leafs' front office and coaching staff was remade over the summer with Babcock's presence being an obvious example of that.  Babcock is trying to lead a culture change, so every opportunity counts.

NHL: FEB 07 Oilers at Maple LeafsWhile bad performances can be cause for concern, there's a more immediately tangible way a preseason contest can hinder a team.  The Edmonton Oilers experienced that when Jordan Eberle suffered a shoulder injury on Tuesday that will cost him the next four-to-six weeks.

Eberle was the team's scoring leader with 63 points last season and would have been a big part of Edmonton's one-two attack as he had been playing with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins while Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid highlighted the other scoring line.  With Eberle now likely to miss most, if not all, of October, it now likely falls to Nail Yakupov to step up. 

Yakupov has a lot of offensive upside, but has been thus far unable to live up to the promise he had when he was taken with the first overall pick in 2012.  That being said, Yakupov did look better in the second half of the 2014-15 campaign and his 5-on-5 PDO of 96 last season suggests that he didn't have much puck luck, so perhaps he's set for a breakout and this is just the opportunity he needs to put it in motion.

On the other end of the spectrum, fans in Columbus have been given a reason to be pumped for the season opener.  So far the line of Brandon Saad, Ryan Johansen, and Nick Foligno have lived up to people's wildest expectations with a combined six goals and 14 points in two exhibition games. 

NHL: SEP 26 Preseason - Blue Jackets at PenguinsEven though preseason statistics have to be taken with a grain of salt, that line has a lot of skill and potential going into this season.  It wouldn't be shocking if the trio proved to be one of the NHL's most effective units this season and given that Saad and Johansen are just 22 and 23-years-old respectively, that would be a very big boost for not just Columbus' chances in 2015-16, but also their long-term prospects.

NHL: JAN 27 Red Wings at PanthersRed Wings coach Jeff Blashill has also been given a reason to be upbeat thanks to the showing of Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.  Howard was benched in favor of Mrazek for much of Detroit's seven-game series against the Lightning in the 2015 playoffs, but neither goaltender has a significant edge over the other in the battle for the 2015-16 starting gig.

Detroit has the luxury - or burden depending on how you want to see it - of tabling that discussion though as the reality is they need to utilize both netminders in the short-term.  Detroit has four sets of back-to-back games in the month of October, so the idea that either goalie getting hot in the first month will allow them to run the table early is unrealistic.  That being said, if either of them can manage to stand out for the other in October, that will likely start to pay dividends once Detroit's schedule gets more manageable.