The Colorado Avalanche open their season against the New York Rangers Wednesday in what they hope will be a turnaround season for a team that was clearly the worst in the NHL. There are so many new faces on the club that it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be growing pains as the lines settle and defensive pairings coalesce.

The Avalanche will certainly be a work in progress; so as their long season begins, consider these three steps as opening hurdles that the team must clear to continue along a path to improvement, and a potential playoff spot.

One: Keeping the scoresheet as clean as possible will critical for the Avalanche. While that sounds obvious, in recent memory, there have been far too many times where they’ve appeared to have a comfortable lead only to see opposing team will come storming back late in the game; scoring multiple goals in the third period to steal the game.

Protecting goaltender Semyon Varlamov has also been an issue, so the new defensive pairings’ performances will go a long way toward finding out how the season will turn out. There are some new faces on the defense this season and the pairings; on paper, look promising. Coach Jared Bednar’s opening pairings are Mark Barberio and Erik Johnson, recent pickup Patrik Nemeth and Tyson Barrie, along with youngsters Andrei Mironov and Chris Bigras.

The pairing to watch will be the Nemeth-Barrie combo. Nemeth, claimed off waivers from Dallas earlier in the week, is a solid, stay-at-home defender. Barrie is exactly the opposite; as the most offensive-minded defenseman on the roster, he looks to attack at every opportunity. If these two can get in rhythm and find a flow together, this pairing can juice up the offense while still keeping Varlamov protected while he’s in net.

Two: In recent seasons the Avs’ offense comes out of the gates rolling and is able to score goals in bunches early on, but then manages to stall out after the first few weeks. They have the talent to be lethal offensively, but they need to be able to sustain it throughout the season. Matt Duchene will be a major factor in this formula, but given the ongoing drama surrounding his future with the team, there’s no telling how long he’ll remain with the squad this season.

The Nathan MacKinnon line should be able to find the back of the net on a regular basis; if they can’t, the Avs are in a heap of trouble. The fourth line, consisting of Tyson Jost, Matt Nieto and Blake Comeau could step up and become an ace in the hole. Jost is his sophomore year with the club and showed he has a high ceiling. The 19-year-old has an experienced supporting cast in Comeau and Nieto that could force opponents to switch up their rotations. If the Avs can get this line rolling and generate some points, it could provide a massive payoff down the stretch of the season.

Three: Varlamov needs to stay healthy, return to top form — and do so early in the season in order to prove that he still deserves the starting spot. Even though he struggled with injuries last season, his goals-against average (GAA) was 3.38, and he had a save percentage of .898; the first season in which he fell below .900 in his NHL career. If the game is close, and Varly can be the difference-maker, this will give the club — and Avalanche fans — valuable confidence in the veteran goalie going forward.