The Colorado Avalanche are an enigma. They are 3 – 5 – 2 in their last 10 games, the most recent of which were a win over Detroit and losses to the Islanders and Phoenix. But the start of the season they were on a tear, and they currently sit one point ahead of Chicago in the Western Conference standings.

There is simply no telling which Avalanche team is going to show up on any given night with this bunch. They could skate circles around the team leading the league in points, or they could give up 6 goals to some cellar dweller.

However, we know one thing: they’ve beaten the Blackhawks three times already this season, including back-to-back defeats in a home-and-home in mid-December. So the four-game season series is blown: now we’re just playing for the two points, and pride.

The first thing to take note of with the Avs is goaltending. Long and short, they suck. GAA over 3.00, save percentage right at .900. This is a team that we should light up like a Roman candle. There are rumors of a “goalie controversy” with the squad, though with numbers like those it shouldn’t matter who your “starter” is — you should be looking to trade for one. Colorado Coach Joe Sacco has given the reins to Peter Budaj for tonight’s game, his second straight start after the Detroit win, and it is rumored that this is a deliberate sleight to Craig Anders(s)on to light a fire under his rear end.

So the Avs’ goaltending sucks, and they know it. But the problem is, they don’t care. They have the second-most powerful offense in the league: they’re obviously using the “best defense is a good offense” strategy. Centers Matt Duchene and Paul Statsny are turning into the new millennium’s version of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, sitting 1 – 2 on the stats sheet with a combined 80 points. The Avalanche have six players with at least 10 goals, and eight players with at least 20 points — and four of those have more than 30. Suffice to say, they come at you from all sides.

However, Colorado’s stud rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk - who has 20 points thus far – is a game-time decision.

So the question becomes: do we try to exploit their weak goaltending, turn the United Center into the O.K. Corral, and try to win it 7 – 6? Or do we solve the problem by stymieing their offense and try to win 2 – 1?

This is a question I would not like to have to answer. That’s why they pay Coach Joel Quenneville the big money.

Given our defensive problems of late, I would cast my vote for the offensive surge. During the ‘Hawks 5 – 0 shutout of the Islanders last Sunday, the million-dollar men decided to show off their offensive skills. If that can continue, we may have a chance to outscore them.

But that game also showed how the Blackhawks’ inconsistent defense (boy, THERE’S the understatement of the year) is still a liability. Duncan Keith continued his lackluster play, with “Erp, derp-derp, that one got past me, derp-derp…” plays around his own blue line. Keith was outshined by rookie Nick Leddy, who continues to impress — despite being made to look like he had his skates on the wrong feet in giving up a breakaway that required a highlight-reel save by Corey Crawford.

It should be noted that this will be Leddy’s 9th game with the big club. Past 10 games the Blackhawks torch the first year of his entry-level contract, something they were unwilling to do with winger Jeremy Morin. Only time will tell if they’re going to take the plunge with Leddy.

Crawford will get the start again tonight, his 6th in a row. The Blackhawks are all healthy, and following the two wins over the weekend one would expect the same lineup as we saw then. Colorado has Chris Stewart, Peter Mueller, Kyle Cumiskey and Kyle Quincey on IR.

7:30pm puck drop tonight, as usual. Comcast SportsNet has the TV rights, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers should look for the game on channel 206.

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