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Aucoin, Cizikas look to capitalize on NHL ice time

by Ben Raby /
WASHINGTON -- After skating alongside Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson at practice yesterday, Capitals forward Mike Knuble was asked if he read anything into his practicing with the No. 1 line.

"No because I imagine Keith [Aucoin] will be back [Tuesday]," said Knuble, a healthy scratch the previous two games while American Hockey League call-up Keith Aucoin donned a Caps sweater both nights. "That's what I assume will happen -- that he'll be back [Tuesday]. So I just got to fill in his spot for a day."

Twenty-four hours later, Knuble's theory was proven correct. Aucoin was recalled from the AHL Hershey Bears this morning and will play tonight as the Caps host the New York Islanders at Verizon Center.

Aucoin will play on a line with Ovechkin and Johansson while Knuble will sit as a healthy scratch for the third straight game and for the sixth time in the last 10 games overall.

"Definitely, he played pretty well last game, so we're giving him the chance to play again," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said.

Aucoin had a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win Saturday in Toronto. Those are Aucoin's only two points in eight NHL games this season, but the 2009-10 AHL Most Valuable Player is second in AHL scoring this season with 70 points in 43 games.

"We all know he's not a big guy," Hunter said of the 5-foot-8 forward. "But he's smart player. That's why he's put numbers up in the American League and wherever he's been he's played well offensively and he's a smart player."

While the 33-year-old Aucoin won't be mistaken for a blue-chip prospect, he is nonetheless making the most of his latest look in the NHL.

At the other end of the spectrum, 21-year-old Casey Cizikas is looking to take advantage of his first look in the NHL.

Cizikas was recalled by the Islanders from AHL Bridgeport last Thursday and will play in his third career NHL game tonight against the Capitals.

Cizikas appeared in the AHL all-star game in January, and was Bridgeport's leading scorer with 45 points in 51 games at the time of his recall.

"If you had told me coming into the season that this is how it would have been, I never would have believed you," said Cizikas, the Islanders' fourth-round pick at the 2009 Entry Draft. 

"It's been a dream year right now for me as a professional rookie. It's something I never imagined but it's definitely been fun, first getting the call for the [AHL] all-star game and now this is just icing on the cake. It's definitely been a year that I'm never going to forget."

With the Islanders trading veteran forward Brian Rolston to Boston ahead of Monday's trade deadline, Cizikas could get an extended look down the stretch.

The 5-foot-11, 192-pound center has primarily seen third-line duty with the Islanders and is expected to skate alongside Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo tonight in Washington.

"I try to be more of an energy guy up here," Cizikas said. "We have so many guys that can put the puck in the net, so if I could chip that would be nice, but I think my role here is to get pucks deep, grind in the corners and finish my checks. So that's what I've been trying to do and everyday I'm getting more comfortable out there."
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