October 13, 2010 // 10:45am ET
Top Five Things to Watch
By Ryan Boulding, TheFourthPeriod.com

DENVER, CO -- While I'm aware of the ridiculousness of projecting the season based on a single game, opening night last week for the Colorado Avalanche has given fans at least five things to watch for in the coming season.

While both good and bad, these five items have the ability to make or break the Avalanche's chances at pursuing Lord Stanley's Cup.

1. Third period goals have been killer to the Avs in recent years. In fact, the Burgundy Boys surrendered 87 goals in the third period last year. Compare this to the 68 they've scored and they're a bit far from matching opposing team output in the final frame.

Last Thursday's home opener was no exception. The Avalanche gave up the game tying goal in the third period - in addition to a goal late in the second period - and had to squeak one out in overtime to get the win.

This is part of a larger problem: The Avalanche sit back and coast when leading the game. Protecting the lead - poorly - costs them frequently and it will obviously be something that Coach Joe Sacco will be looking to mend over the course of the season.

2. Third period goals are, of course, directly related to the fact that Colorado allowed 2,629 shots last season. Craig Anderson faced 2,233 of those shots, which was the most in the NHL. Miraculously, the Avs managed to steal wins anyway, largely making the most out of their few shots.

While the margin was small, the Avalanche managed to outshoot the Chicago Blackhawks on opening night. This will be a sign of things to come as I fully expect the Burgundy and Blue to begin to pour shots on opposing goaltenders, while still making the good chances count. The kids will still be hungry, but they’ll have more opportunities as well.

3. John-Michael Liles is poised to have the year of his career. He managed to tally 31 points in 2009-10 while playing in merely 59 games. Benched due to both injury and questions about his compete level, Liles made an outstanding recovery to his situation, building confidence and earning his spot back from the not-so-merry-go-round of defense. That confidence as well as his superb offensive prowess has carried over into this season.

The last time a defenseman scored more than 40 points was Liles himself in 2006-07, and a recent Colorado Avalanche Blogger Roundtable saw much love for Liles to do it again. With two points in his first game, look for the veteran - if he stays healthy - to have a career year, especially if he can find a powerplay partner with a booming shot.

4. Penalties can be the kryptonite of any team, and the Avs, who allow too many shots and give away late goals, will suffer from this despite excellent special teams. The Blackhawks had a man advantage for 14 minutes and managed to score two powerplay goals to Colorado's one.

While this game ended in favor of the Avs, don't expect them to be so lucky moving forward. Of the seven penalties taken, three were taken by defenseman, which can produce favorable match-ups for the opposing team. The Avalanche defense needs to be solid in front, but calm as well. Panic leads to penalties, which, in turn, leads to goals. Though, with the loss of Marek Svatos, expect the number of stick-related penalties to drop by nearly two per game on average.

5. Finally, the top line on the Avalanche is comprised of TJ Galiardi, Paul Stastny, and Chris Stewart and these guys are going to have a lot of points this season. They made a major impact immediately in training camp and combined for three of the four goals scored by the Avalanche against the Blackhawks.

With Matt Duchene coming into his own and leading the second line, the offensive firepower of this team will be the surprise every team never coming. While the sleeper potential of the Avalanche has dwindled, as the core of the team remains and they have been played against and even scouted for a full season, these kids are poised to put up a boatload of points and that is something most teams won’t be ready for.

This season will be largely as unpredictable for Avalanche fans and followers as the last, though the team is basically the same. I see this team going into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but work certainly needs to be done, and the sooner the better.

Ryan Boulding covers the Colorado Avalanche for TheFourthPeriod.com

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