- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Washington Capitals have to start the season without Tomas Fleischmann and possibly without Eric Fehr, creating an immediate opening for someone who can fill in as a top-six forward with an offensive touch.

And though the task is a big one, 5-foot-9 Keith Aucoin might be the perfect fit.

Aucoin, a 30-year-old journeyman, has shown the Caps he has an innate ability to create offense and provide energy. That might be enough to earn him a spot in Washington come the season opener Thursday night.

“He’s small, but every time we called him up last year he succeeded in making us better,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think when you’re looking for a guy who can be a top-six forward, he’s a guy that can.”

Aucoin played 12 games for the Caps last season, recording two goals and four assists. This year he has already illustrated he can produce, scoring a pair of goals in three preseason games.

Aucoin said he doesn’t consider whom he would have to beat out for roster spots, instead concentrating on showing what he brings to an NHL lineup.

“I’m not the biggest guy, but I can throw the body around a little bit and get the crowd going and get the bench going when we need it,” he said. “I’m not afraid of the contact for a little guy.”

With the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League last season, Aucoin finished with 25 goals and 71 assists - one point behind linemate Alexandre Giroux for tops in the AHL. And as Boudreau noted, Aucoin likely would have been No. 1 had he not spent so much time with the Caps.

But piling up statistics in the AHL is not Aucoin’s goal now. He said he considers this one of his better NHL training camps given his performances in practice and his improvement from game to game. That was on display Thursday night, when he scored in the Caps’ 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

The previous time Aucoin lit up the AHL was in 2006-07, when he had 99 points for the Albany River Rats. The following season he played 38 games for Carolina - the most of his NHL career.

A similar situation could be unfolding again. Though he said he hasn’t talked to Boudreau about what he has to do to make the team, Aucoin said he thinks he has a legitimate shot at cracking the Caps’ roster.

“Sometimes you come into a situation where there’s no chance you can make a team, but I think I had a chance of making the team this year if I went out there and worked hard and played well,” Aucoin said. “I just go out there and play and worry about myself, and I think that’s the best way you can look at it. If that happens, everything will take care of itself.”

Piling up penalties

Through their first five preseason games, the Caps have accrued 50 minutes in the box from minor penalties. They had five such penalties Thursday at New York.

But the problem doesn’t appear to be too much physical play. Instead, 10 of the infractions have been hooking or tripping calls. Still, Boudreau said he wasn’t worried about the penalty situation, citing a different way referees call penalties in the preseason.

“It’s something we always talk about, but on the same token, in the preseason penalties are called on a way-more-frequent [basis] than they are in the regular season,” Boudreau said Thursday. “I’m surprised there’s games we don’t have 10 and 11.”

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