Defenseman Steve Kampfer is set to play in his fifth consecutive game tonight when the Rangers host the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden.
The 29-year-old appeared in just one the team's first 12 games, but has since formed a steady partnership alongside Marc Staal on the team's third pair. Players often state the more they play, the more comfortable they feel, and Kampfer is no exception.
"The first game was definitely trying to get the legs back under me and the battle back," he told NYRangers.com on Wednesday. "Since then, I've felt good. I've felt the legs have been fine. Doing some video work with the coaches and just trying to fine-tune some things to work on and get better."
Kampfer, who appeared in 10 games a season ago with the Rangers, praised Staal for being the type of partner that benefits Kampfer's style of play.
"It's one of those things that he's a defensive-defenseman. I like to jump a little bit more," Kampfer said. "We're both solid defensively that when we get going, we kind of read off each other and who can jump and who can go. Defensively, we're talking to each other, who is out, where's your next play. Trying to simplify the game for each other because when you're talking out there, it makes the game a heck of a lot easier."
Coach Alain Vigneault described Kampfer as "dependable" and as a defenseman that "keeps it simple and high percentage." It's those qualities that have kept him in the lineup.
"I think he knows his limitations as far as he's not a very big player, but he skates well and he's good on puck battles," he said. "He keeps it simple and he doesn't put himself in a lot of trouble."
Kampfer stands at just 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, and while he's not the prototypical physical defenseman, that hasn't prevented him from playing with an edge.
He picked up two fighting majors in the team's 2-1 overtime victory against Tampa last week, and on Monday, Kampfer caught Columbus' Zac Dalpe with a hit at the Rangers blueline. Dalpe retaliated and on the ensuing power play, Chris Kreider scored to tie the game, 3-3, before New York scored two more times in the victory.
"I think you definitely want to play with a little bit of a bite to your game, making sure that you're getting a little physical edge out there that - I wouldn't say it was lacking - it's definitely needed," Kampfer said. "Coming from the back end where guys are trying to stay in the lineup, you're trying to play physical and make yourself known out there that you're going stick up for teammates but you're also going to make the hit along the boards and play physical along the way."
There's certainly internal competition on the Rangers' blueline, with seven capable defensemen vying for six spots. Right now, the odd-man out is Brendan Smith, though Vigneault said his chance to reclaim his spot is coming, it just won't be tonight.
Vigneault said he wants to see more from Smith in several areas, including his decision making as well as playing with that edge that Kampfer has exhibited over the last handful of games.
"He needs to be stronger on his puck battles," Vigneault said of Smith. "We believe he can play with an edge, play with a bite. A little bit quicker going back for pucks and making that right initial play. I think if he does that … he'll be fine."
That competition is fueling Kampfer, who said he knows anything less than his top effort could cost him his spot in the lineup.
"I think it's one of those things that you've got to bring it every night," Kampfer said. "You've got to make sure you're on your A-game, because if you're not, you're going to be taken out. We're here to win and we're here to keep pushing to get back in a playoff spot here. Right now, it's making sure you have your best every night and go from there."