Although it's only the first week of the season, the Rangers are preparing for one of the most critical stretches in their 2003-04 schedule. With six consecutive home games slated for the month of October and 11 of the team's next 13 matches set to be played at Madison Square Garden, the Blueshirts will look to reverse a trend that has severely dented their playoff chances over the past six seasons.
The task at hand is winning on home ice, with a golden opportunity to earn some important Eastern Conference points over the next five weeks. The Rangers haven't had a winning season at home since the 1996-97 campaign, when they posted a 21-14-6 mark. Since then, the team has amassed a .470 winning percentage at The World's Most Famous Arena, and both the coaching staff and players alike realize that this trend must be reversed in order to succeed.
"It's very important to get off to a strong start, especially on home ice," said Blueshirt VP of Player Development and Assistant Coach Tom Renney. "We want Madison Square Garden to be a tough place for a team to come in and play. We want The Garden to be a place where visiting teams earn any points that they might come away with. It's up to each of the 23 players on the roster to identify with the physical and emotional commitment needed to make this happen."
Rangers defenseman Tom Poti agreed.
"A strong home start is crucial for us," he said prior to the team's two-game road trip to start the season. "We have to win games at Madison Square Garden. We have to make The Garden a place where other teams do not want to play. It's crucial that we play strong in our home building to be successful this season."
Despite only a year of NHL experience, Blueshirt forward Jamie Lundmark (above) is fully aware of what the team needs to do in New York.
"We have to play hard at home," he said "It's up to us to create the mindset for other teams that playing the Rangers at Madison Square Garden will not be an easy game. With a bunch of home games to start the season, we must get off to a good start, get the ball rolling and force the momentum of the season in our favor."