The bulk of the Bruins’ roster is in China, playing preseason games and attempting to capitalize on marketing opportunities. The absence of most of the team’s veterans might detract from the quality of play in the stateside group, but it is also opening the door for youngsters such as Axel Andersson and Jakub Lauko.
Andersson and Lauko, both 18, took advantage of the opportunity, playing key roles in the Bruins’ 2-1 shootout victory over the Washington Capitals in the team’s domestic preseason opener on Sunday at TD Garden.
Andersson, who played for Djurgardens IF in Sweden last season, started on defense, pairing with Zdeno Chara. Lauko, who played for Pirati Chomutov in the Czech Republic, opened the scoring off an Andersson assist at 17:01 of the opening period.
“The two of them, for young kids, they played well,” Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco said of Andersson and Lauko. “[Andersson] seemed like he was really poised back there, wasn’t nervous, went back for pucks, didn’t seem to get rattled or anything. Even when the pressure came hard on him a few times he didn’t seem to back off. I would put those two guys in the same category, getting off to a good start.
“[Lauko] didn’t seem fazed by anything out there. Obviously, scoring the goal was a bonus, but just the way he played the game — it was a good start for him [but] you don’t want to get ahead of yourself. First game overseas here, playing against a team that obviously was missing a lot of players, but they came at us hard, especially the second half of the game. They handled it well, both of those guys.”
Danton Heinen, playing on a line centered by David Krejci, converted the deciding shootout goal and Zane McIntyre made 21 saves, plus one in the shootout.
McIntyre was tested in the early going. McIntyre stopped Andre Burakovsky in the opening seconds, saved a point-blank attempt from Christian Djoos and a Jakub Vrana redirect, then gloved two Colby Williams shots in succession. The Bruins then closed off the Capitals until the final seconds of the first period, when McIntyre blocked a Jayson Megna shorthanded breakaway.
Lauko broke through, wristing a second chancer past Pheonix Copley, his initial attempt blocked after a faceoff.
“When I scored it was unbelievable for me,” Lauko said. “Great experience and I’m looking forward to the next game.”
Brett Connolly equalized at 17:25 of the second period, roofing a close-in shot past McIntyre glove side.
The teams will be rematched in Washington on Tuesday and the Capitals will open defense of their Stanley Cup title when the teams meet in Washington on Oct. 3.
“Obviously, he’s a very good skating defenseman, calm with the puck,” Chara said of Andersson. “You see that very often now, these younger guys coming in, they add some poise, patience. He’s been playing with the men for a while in the Swedish League, so you can tell he’s not nervous. He’s a good skating player, as you expect all the Swedish players are.
“That’s the key, if you keep talking, you find that’s almost like your extra player. We never lost control of it, kept passing, reversed it a few times, eventually we got it up the ice — instead of just whacking it or sending the problem to somebody else, as we say. We controlled it. It’s great when you have that kind of confidence and believe you can make that kind of play.”
The Bruins were resourceful in overtime, sustaining two penalties — Ryan Fitzgerald for tripping at 1:48 and too many men on the ice at 2:53.
Heinen and Krejci combined effectively on the first line, along with Fitzgerald.
“I thought those two guys seemed to have the puck quite a bit,” Sacco said of Heinen and Krejci. “The two of them, they’re smart, they’re good with the puck, they make good decisions, and they have the high skill level with the puck. So, I thought it was a good start for them as far as trying to form a little bit of chemistry with each other.”
Krejci missed the flight to China because of a visa problem.
“I thought we created lots of chances in the first period and easily could have had a few goals,” Krejci said. “But that’s how it goes, you know. It’s not really so much about goals now, it’s just to get your habits.”