A few decades ago, you could tell when a player was really serious about nutrition and conditioning because he'd give up drinking beer. Or, more likely, would replace it with light beer.
Hall of Fame center Ron Francis is fond of telling about the time he asked Mario Lemieux how he prepared for training camp, and Lemieux responded that, about a month beforehand, he stopped ordering french fries with his club sandwich. (Which, in retrospect, was more of a commitment to fitness than most people realized Lemieux was interested in making until after his comeback in 2000.)
But such attitudes and actions are no more a part of the NHL today than bench-clearing brawls and the Oakland Seals. Conditioning coaches are a staple of every team's staff, and they have more than a passing interest in what players consume.
"I'm always preaching nutrition and trying to get the right things in you," said Mike Kadar, who fills that role for the Penguins.
He does not, however, have a comprehensive list of foods that bears his stamp of approval. And, if he did, there's not much chance that winger Eric Godard's meal of choice would show up there.
Kadar, you see, is one of those folks who simply doesn't recognize the nutritional merits of an occasional fried peanut butter-and-banana sandwich.
Godard says they hardly are a staple of his diet, but acknowledges a weakness for them.
"I don't have it too often," he said.
"But it is my favorite."
Godard realizes that not everyone shares his passion for those sandwiches, although he doesn't seem entirely clear on why.
"What do you mean, what's the appeal?" he said, smiling. "Just say it, and your mouth starts watering."
Just say it around Kadar, though, and it's more likely that his eyes will start watering. Suffice to say, he won't be adding fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches to the Penguins' team meals anytime soon, regardless of whether they were a fixture on Elvis Presley's training table.
"Some people think, 'everything in moderation,' which, I guess, in one sense, is true," Kadar said. "But I like to think of it a little bit differently. If you're a professional athlete, basically, if you look after your body, your body is going to look after you."
For what it's worth, Godard's body has served him pretty well this season. He was brought in to replace Georges Laraque as the Penguins' enforcer and has filled that role effectively.
He always is willing (game circumstances permitting) and usually eager to drop his gloves and has emerged the clear winner in most of his fights.
Still, it's apparent that Kadar would prefer Godard not indulge in his favorite food because, while those sandwiches might satisfy a craving, they don't pack the nutritional punch that he likes the Penguins to get from the foods they eat.
"It comes down to performance, too," Kadar said.
"Are you going to feel energized by the different foods you're putting into your body? Typically, fried foods and stuff like that aren't going to give you that type of energy.
"All you can do is tell them what you believe in, tell them what you know, and if they follow, great. If not, hopefully down the road, they do."
Atlanta winger Colby Armstrong threw some devastating hits during his time with the Penguins -- just ask the likes of Saku Koivu, Jeff Carter, Patrick Eaves and Trevor Letowski -- and added Toronto's Jason Blake to his list of victims when he dropped him in the third period of the Thrashers' 6-3 victory Tuesday at the Air Canada Center.
That hit turned up in several locker-room conversations the next day and, while there was no consensus on whether it fell completely within the parameters laid out in the rulebook, none of the Penguins seemed surprised that Armstrong had struck again.
"He looks for those hits," center Sidney Crosby said. "Whether they're clean or not is always debatable. [The hit on Blake] was a little late, but I don't think it was shoulder-to-head or anything."
Although Armstrong is not physically imposing, he can do significant damage when he launches himself into an opponent, especially if the other guy doesn't see him coming.
"He just anticipates the play and he's smart," Crosby said. "He picks his spots sometimes. He might leave his position a little bit when you don't really expect it."
Crosby and Armstrong remain extremely close friends. And while that likely makes Crosby a bit more aware of Armstrong than most players, he understands that it doesn't earn him an exemption.
Fact is, he said, Armstrong tried to target him during the Penguins' 3-2 victory 10 days ago at Philips Arena.
"He wouldn't think twice [before hitting me]," Crosby said. "I wouldn't think twice about whacking him, either. We're friends, but on the ice, we like to play hard, and that's fine. As long as it's clean, that's fine."
There was a time when a third-period lead was all but guaranteed to translate to a victory.
That isn't the case anymore -- witness how the Penguins won seven of their first 21 games, despite trailing at the second intermission -- but playing from behind still is a low-percentage approach.
"I can't remember another year where I've seen so many teams come back in the third period," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "You start watching games, and they'll pop up that stat on the screen where it's, '39 times out of 40 [a team] goes in the third period with a lead, and they win.'
"[Coming back in the third] is something that doesn't happen very often. It's not something we can expect to do. ... I think we probably should realize that, some of the games we've won, we probably shouldn't have."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .