Eric Godard averaged just 4:11 of icetime during the 45 games in which he played last season.

Hardly a difference maker, or so it would seem.

But, Godard brings a tool to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster that no one else can: a pair of heavyweight fists capable of deterring opponents and changing momentum.

It’s been debated for years whether fighting has a place in hockey.

The truth is, it does, and Saturday’s five-fight pre-season display, though a bit over-dramatic, was a prime example.

The Penguins came out relatively flat to start the game, finishing the period with a 1-0 deficit. Their efforts clearly let down a sell-out crowd of area students and youth hockey players who fell silent as the period came to a close.

Not much changed with the game until Kris Letang stepped up and energized the crowd, which in turn sparked his teammates.

So what did he do that flipped the Consol Energy Center’s famed “On Switch”?

He dropped the gloves and handled himself well against Columbus’ Matt Calvert.

Letang isn’t a fighter, but his willingness to defend himself demonstrated to the sell-out crowd and his teammates that it was time to wake up.

The crowd certainly got the message and woke up with a thunderous roar.

And, unsurprisingly, his teammates fed off of the ensuing crowd involvement, which led to three unanswered goals.

The Penguins won the game, and everyone was happy.

Had Letang not taken the initiative to involve the crowd, the game may have been a snooze fest for the final two periods, just as it was for the first.

But players like Letang, and later in the game Evgeni Malkin, shouldn’t be expected to fight. They’re hands are much more valuable with a stick in them, creating offense and scoring goals.

That’s where Godard steps in.

His 4:11 of icetime per game is less than he spends in the box after each fight, but the 20 or 30 seconds the fight lasts are pure excitement.

He’s also capable of matching up with some of the bigger, stronger fighters accross the league — something no other Penguin is capable of doing.

And, with the new-found dedication to the enforcer in the Atlantic Division, Godard’s value to the Penguins has risen significantly.

Not all fights are well-timed, though. Just ask Daniel Carcillo, who fought Max Talbot while his team was up 3-0 against the Penguins during the 2009 playoffs. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose by fighting.

He lost everything.

The Penguins went on to win the game and then the series, despite the fact that Talbot lost the fight.

For Talbot, the fight was a well-timed wake-up call and energy boost for his teammates. For Carcillo, the fight was a black hole that sucked all the light from his team.

In that sense, fighting is like tightrope walking. Do it correctly, and it’s a thing of beauty. Take one wrong step, and the results are devastating.

During the playoffs, as Carcillo so eloquently demonstrated, fighting is much too risky — which is why Godard rarely takes the ice.

But that doesn’t mean fighting doesn’t have its place in hockey.

During the long, 82-game season, when games often seem meaningless in the grand scheme of things, a well-timed fight can be just what the doctor ordered.

And that is why the Penguins and most other successful teams, will continue to employ players such as Godard, who specialize in fisticuffs.