Don't look now, but Eric Godard is playing perhaps the best hockey of his life.
Yes, that Eric Godard.
The Penguins' bruising, tattooed enforcer has gotten swept up in coach Dan Bylsma's aggressive, offense-heavy style that has the team flourishing.
"He's been playing great," said Mike Rupp, Godard's usual linemate along with center Craig Adams on the fourth line. "He's been cycling the puck. Our line's been doing well."
• Game: Penguins at New York Rangers, 7:08 p.m. today, Madison Square Garden, New York.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
• Goaltending: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Henrik Lundqvist for Rangers.
• Penguins: Have won 6 of past 8 games. ... C Sidney Crosby has 41 points (16 goals, 25 assists) in 30 games vs. Rangers. ... D Brooks Orpik is 1 game shy of 400 for career.
• Rangers: Have lost 4 of past 6, the past 2 by collective 13-4. ... Are 63-43-9-1 vs. Penguins all time at home. ... Have gotten 17 goals from defense, tied with Penguins for third in NHL through yesterday.
• Hidden stat: In 2 games against Rangers, Penguins C Sidney Crosby has won 28 of 40 faceoffs (70 percent).
In the first period of Saturday's 8-3 win against the New York Rangers at Mellon Arena, Godard was on the ice with top-liners Sidney Crosby and Max Talbot. The right winger drove the net, creating space for Crosby to set up Talbot for a goal.
Godard, who signed with the Penguins in the 2008 offseason, hasn't mustered a goal this season. But not for lack of his teammates trying to get him one in games such as Saturday's lopsided victory.
With the Penguins on an extended power play the latter portion of the third period, Godard was sent out on the ice, and his teammates tried to set him up for a goal.
"You see him on the power play out there late, he's battling in front and everybody's trying to find him, and that's because if anyone deserves it, it's him," Crosby said. "We all had our eye open for him."
Those not on the ice were encouraging Godard.
"You listen to the guys on the bench hooting and hollering when he gets a chance," Rupp said. "We want him to put one in the net."
The 6-foot-4, 214-pound Godard smiled sheepishly when asked about that.
"It's nice," he said. "It's always fun to get on the power play. It's easy. All those guys just keep looking for me trying to score."
Godard hasn't forgotten his main role, though.
"In my book, he's one of the toughest guys in the league," said Rupp, a rugged player but not necessarily an enforcer.
If things get ugly in the Penguins' rematch with the Rangers tonight in New York, Godard won't hesitate to stand up for teammates and fight or whatever he thinks might help.
That's the primary reason his teammates voted for him to receive the players' player award last season. There is also Godard's willingness to donate his time for anything from handing out Thanksgiving turkeys to making children smile.
"He's an unbelievable teammate," Crosby said. "Obviously, the job that he has is well respected by all of us, but the type of person he is and what he's willing to do -- which is anything for us -- that means a lot.
"Guys want to see him have success."
Godard has put in some extra time trying to prove he knows which is the business end of a hockey stick.
"The coaches have been working with me to try to improve parts of my game, and it's really starting to work right now," he said. "I just have to keep working."
Godard, 29, had two goals for the Penguins last season. In 295 career games, he has 5 goals, 13 points and 678 penalty minutes.
He is not likely to challenge for the team scoring title. Or even his line's scoring title. He has one assist in 24 games this season, averaging just 4 minutes, 56 seconds of ice time. In that limited time, he has 21 hits, 4 blocked shots and 26 penalty minutes.
There is tangible evidence of his improvement beyond hitting and punching, including his plus-minus rating of plus-2. He has never finished an NHL season on the plus side.
In the Penguins' 3-1 win against Montreal Wednesday, Godard logged 9:45 of ice time, the most in his tenure with the Penguins, and had four shots, tying a career high. In one memorable, extended shift, he, Rupp and Adams did a stellar job working the puck in the Canadiens' zone.
"See, I can do it," Godard said, blushing a little. "Guys want to play with the puck. We want to be the offensive team. We have a system so we can play like that."
It can't always be like that for him. The game before Montreal, a tight contest at Florida in which the Penguins rallied to win in overtime, 3-2, Godard got only 1:28 of ice time. During the team's run to the Stanley Cup last spring, Godard didn't crack the lineup for a playoff game.
He understands perfectly.
"It's just my role to help the team," he said. "Chipping in is fun and it's always nice to see a point by your name, but my role is my role. It's not going to change. Anything else is a little treat, I guess."
For more on the Penguins, read the new Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.