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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New York's Season Is Almost Too Easy

BALTIMORE, Maryland -- Folks who follow the New York Rangers -- and who can miss them, with their gaudy 39-17-4 record atop the NHL standings? -- might be thinking they are going to run out of legs and energy at playoff time.


But no one is wondering about Mark Messier, Adam Graves or Sergei Zubov.


Messier has improved this season; Graves, with 43 goals, is seven away from the Rangers' all-time goal-scoring record set by Vic Hatfield in 1971-72; and Zubov, a defenseman, is turning out to be the biggest surprise in the league, returning from an early stint in the minors to produce nine goals and 52 assists in 54 games.


"This is the most enjoyable season I've had," said Messier, who has 31 points in his past 17 games. "It's incredible. Everyone is working hard on the ice, and that makes what happens off the ice fun."


Coach Mike "Keenan has left no doubt about what he expects from us, and everyone has responded," Messier added.


The Rangers have more wins than they did all of last season, when they finished 34-39-11.


"At this point in the season, as a coach, you're wondering if it is realistic to expect the kind of commitment, generally speaking, that we've had from these players for the entire season," said Keenan. "You're wondering if they'll continue to play at a .700-plus winning percentage, or even if it's proper to expect it.


Keenan states the obvious when he says the future will tell what kind of team the Rangers will ultimately be. But he also has a very real grasp of what his team has to have to be special.


"Mark Messier has carried us since the All-Star break, without question, and probably for most of the season," Keenan said. "And you expect it from your best players. Your best have to be the best to be the best in the league. On the other hand, you look for responses from other players in these situations to make it a unique 84-game schedule."


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Should the NHL have shootouts? It is a question under review by a committee established by commissioner Gary Bettman and headed by Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin.


But committee review or not, everyone has an opinion on the subject.


Anaheim Mighty Ducks owner Michael Eisner wants it for the excitement. But traditionalists such as Wayne Gretzky and Washington Capitals president Dick Patrick say forget about it.


"Let's just play until someone wins," Gretzky said. "If everyone knows that's how it is, that someone has to score, they'll try harder. Let's do it that way if we have to have a winner. No shootouts."


"But I think the shootout is so different from what the game is all about," said Patrick. "I don't find ties all that unacceptable."