Tom Poti

Opening Nightmare

One year ago, on opening night, the Rangers began the 2002-03 season with an emphatic 4-1 win over the previous year’s Eastern Conference champs. At the time it was at optimistic moment in an otherwise disappointing sixth straight season without the playoffs. By contrast the 2003-04 season opener was anything but optimistic. The Rangers blew a 3-1 second period lead with three goals against in eight minutes and a listless performance that made light of the preseason talk about new systems and a new dedication to defense.

At the final whistle, the Rangers had given up five goals to a team that was missing their four top scorers from the previous season and went a miserable 0 for 8 with the man advantage. Of the three goals the Blueshirts did score, two were from sharp angles and were the result of fortunate deflections that beat the otherwise steady Dwayne Roloson in net. All in all it was a night of disappointment for fans and team members alike.

New York looked slow for much of the game, and were often beaten to the puck or skated around by their less vaunted opponents. Time and time again the Rangers turned the puck over in their own zone, a situation that seemed to get worse as the game progressed and allowed the Wild to get back into the game and ultimately to take the lead. With exception of the fourth line, the Rangers had left their energy and poise back in New York.

The Rangers fell behind at 9:17 of the first period, when Pierre-Marc Bouchard capitalized on some good pressure down low in the Rangers zone. The Rangers appeared to be helpless to stop the buzzing Wild offense as they kept the puck in for almost the entire shift. Fortune smiled on the visitors five minutes later however, when a centering pass from Jan Hlavac deflected off a Wild defender and beat the Minnesota goalie along the ice. It was all the scoring that either team could muster in the first despite a 5-1 advantage in power plays to the Rangers.

For the first half of the second period it appeared the Rangers might be able to find a way to eke out a victory. A goal from the point by Tom Poti as Mark Messier set the screen, was quickly followed up by a third goal from a Chris Simon wide angle pass that deflected off of Barnaby and over the shoulder of Dwayne Roloson. Almost miraculously the Rangers had jumped to a 3-1 lead and things were looking up for the team. But any reverie was short-lived. Less that two minutes later and Andrew Brunette fed a wide open Filip Kuba directly in front for the Wild’s second of the night, as Kasparaitis was unable to contain his man behind the net and Rucinsky failed to pick up the pinching defenseman. The bubble completely collapsed 28 seconds later with a Matt Johnson chip shot that evened the score with Rucinsky and Poti both checking Zholtok behind the net, leaving Johnson unmarked.

With the Rangers in the midst of a chance, Vladimir Malakhov rushed the puck by himself and turned it over, trapping both he and his defensive partner Boris Mironov up ice. The result was the Wild’s 4th goal of the night with Wild defenseman Brad Bombadir converting an Andrew Brunette pass as he rushed up ice. Dunham was left little chance on the play. Former Blueshirt, Alexandre Daigle sealed the result late in the third, picking up another turn over and rushing up ice two on one before converting for his first of the season.

All in all it was a performance that was more indicative of last season than what had been promised under the new system devised by Glen Sather and Tom Renney. The team lacked energy and appeared to be easily rattled when pressured in all situations. Goaltending by Mike Dunham was neither spectacular nor particularly bad, though it’s fair to say that he wasn’t helped out by the defense. Barnaby and Simon were perhaps the hardest workers on the ice and Messier’s screen for the Poti goal, was something that the other centermen seemed unable to replicate.

Greg de Vries1st game as a Ranger
Greg de Vries1st point as a Ranger
Greg de Vries1st assist as a Ranger
Mark MessierTied for 3rd in assists in the NHL
Chris Simon1st game as a Ranger
Chris Simon1st point as a Ranger
Chris Simon1st assist as a Ranger
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