Photo: nhlsnipers.com

The Colorado Avalanche come into the 2010-11 season confounding even the most dedicated fans and the most astute prognosticators. Where will they finish this year? Well, anywhere from last to first. That’s all anyone is willing to commit to.

Well, maybe not first.

So what gives? Last year at this time the Avs were considered to stink like a month-old urinal cake. But then they rode the borderline spectacular play of goaltender and former Blackhawks draft pick Craig Anders(s)on — inside joke, for those of you who remember that far back — into the eighth place spot in the Western Conference and earned a trip to the playoffs. They were dispatched handily by San Jose, but nobody expected to see them anywhere but the golf course and self-help seminars beyond April 4th.

Last year’s miracle performance is exactly why nobody is willing to commit to any firm predictions about this year’s team.

From front to back: the forwards are a huge question mark, as a team just as young as the Blackhawks has the potential to deliver either the season of their lives, or fall victim to the sophomore slump. Paul Statsny leads the team up the middle, with two 19-year-old centers behind him in Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. Can they follow up last year’s performance? Pre-season would suggest otherwise, as the club managed to score more than two goals in only one of seven outings. So right away the offensive situation gets called into question.

Defense is even less inspiring, as 39-year-old Adam Foote is the only marquee name on the blueliner corps. The group will have to cut down the 31 shots against that they *averaged* last season if they want to have any hope of succeeding this year.

Which brings us to goaltending, and the out-of-nowhere performance of the afore-mentioned Mr. Anders(s)on, played this Thursday by Hugo Weaving.

After several failed attempts to ascend to something more than a backup-to-the-backup with both the Hawks and the Florida Panthers, he was acquired to play a similar role with the Avalanche. But fate stepped in, and before long he found himself in the starter’s role and rescuing a team of rookies and misfits night after night.

So was this a fluke? Can Anders(s)on keep it up? Again, pre-season suggests otherwise, as Peter Budaj was the one in net for the only two wins of pre-season, with Anders(s)on between the pipes for three losses.

So as you see, no easy answers. What team will show up on any given night, including this one, is anybody’s guess.

And just for your amusement, attendance is not quite what the Avalanche were experiencing in the Patrick Roy/Joe Sakic/Peter Forsberg days. To entice more Denvernians to the Pepsi Center, the team is offering a free day lift ticket to the Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort for every seat purchased. Remember folks, this is for the HOME OPENER.

On the Blackhawks’ side however, more is known about the team we will see when the puck drops on the 2010-11 season. Underachiever Ryan Potulny and career minor-leaguer Jassen Cullimore lived down to everybody’s expectations during camp, and were placed on waivers Tuesday. They cleared on Wednesday, and with luck that’s the last we’ll see of either of them.

Nick Leddy was at practice wearing a number 8 jersey, a move that we can assume is permanent for him. There does not appear to be any historical significance to the move; he wore number 5 at the University of Minnesota.

Coach Joel Quenneville was tinkering with lineups at practice the last two days, and for the first ten minutes of the game at least (until he gets impatient and plays musical wingers like he usually does) we could see Fernando Pisani alongside Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line. The only other move that could surprise fans is seeing Viktor Stalberg on the fourth line with Jake Dowell and Jack Skille. But don’t expect that to last either, this may be a what-do-we-do-with-Stalberg experiment that will last maybe one period.

Nick Boynton was suspended for one regular season game by Colin Campbell and the NHL Thought Police for what was very obviously a semaphore signal meaning “I enjoyed the cannoli very much, please thank your wife for me.” He can return Saturday against Detroit (*spitting noise*).

Late start for this one, puck drops at 9pm Chicago time. Carried on TV nationally by Versus and VersusHD, radio is WGN. No Comcast pre-game, since they are carrying the Bulls(hit) vs. Mavericks exhibition game.

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