No one expected the Washington Capitals' season opener to be perfect. Not after just six days to learn a new system from a new head coach, not when there's chemistry to establish, communication to pin down and players on the roster without professional game experience in eight months.
There were plenty of little miscues, especially defensively, as players struggled to identify assignments or regroup when caught out of position. Washington also lacked discipline and took eight trips to the penalty box — including a pair that resulted in a critical two-man advantage at the start of the third — giving Lightning forwards the opportunity to score three power-play goals.
Both problems, Oates said, could be attributed at least in part to a lack of conditioning.
"I think some of the mistakes came from conditioning," Oates said. "Second period, obviously, it's a long change [to the bench]. They had a couple waves on us and wore us out. I think just the amount of ice time the guys got and being a little bit out of shape took its toll."
The Capitals began this lockout-shortened 48-game season with four of the first five minutes on the power play, but despite plenty of movement and five shots on goal, they couldn't find a way to finish.
A special-teams-heavy start limited minutes for the bulk of the roster, preventing players from establishing a rhythm in what was for many their first game since the conclusion of the 2011-12 season. Failing to capitalize on those early opportunities helped tip the balance in Tampa Bay's favor.
After thwarting the power plays, the Lightning took a 1-0 lead after 6:24 on a long-range shot by defenseman Eric Brewer that beat a screened Braden Holtby (28 saves). Brewer's goal, his first of two Saturday night, came on Tampa Bay's first shot of the game. Even after multiple comeback attempts, the Capitals never managed to wrest the lead from the Lightning.
Alex Ovechkin, who played 23minutes, 35 seconds and had four shots on goal, all in the first period, said the failure to take advantage of the early power plays proved particularly costly.
"PP was big moment, I think, for us in the first period. We had three right away; we have to use it," Ovechkin said. "That kind of momentum was on our side but they score the goal — it was our fault."
Back on the power play for a third time in the first seven minutes, the Capitals finally converted when Joel Ward knocked a bouncing rebound past Anders Lindback to make it 1-1. Forty-four seconds later, Vincent Lecavalier fired into a wide-open net to claim a 2-1 lead while the Capitals scrambled about their own zone after an initial chance by Teddy Purcell clanked off the post. Lecavalier's goal marked Tampa Bay's second shot of the game.
Washington pulled even at 2 1:59 into the second when Ward scored by crashing the net. It was Ward's first multigoal game as a Capital and his first since May 7, 2011, while in the playoffs with Nashville.
Martin St. Louis scored the first of his two power-play goals just past the five-minute mark in the second period to regain the lead. From there, the Capitals' penchant for penalties only grew. While Wojtek Wolski made it 3-3 late in the second, Washington took three more minors, putting more pressure on the lineup.
It might not have cost them late in the second, but when tripping penalties by Mathieu Perreault and Nicklas Backstrom gave Tampa Bay just over a minute of a five-on-three, the damage was all but certain. St. Louis scored again on the two-man advantage to make it 4-3 and knock the Capitals on their heels.
First period—1, Tampa Bay, Brewer 1 (Carle, St. Louis) 6:24 2, Washington, Ward 1 (Wolski, Poti) 8:25 (pp) 3, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 1 (Aulie) 9:09.
Second period—4, Washington, Ward 2 (Chimera, Carlson) 1:59 5, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 1 (Lecavalier, Conacher) 5:11 (pp) 6, Washington, Wolski 1 (Ribeiro, Hamrlik) 18:15.
Third period—7, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 2 (Stamkos, Purcell) 4:57 (pp) 8, Tampa Bay, Conacher 1 (Purcell) 13:24 9, Tampa Bay, Brewer 2 (Purcell, Stamkos) 16:42 (pp).
Shots on goal—Washington 17-6-7—30. Tampa Bay 8-13-13—34.
Goalies—Washington Holtby 0-1-0 (34 shots-28 saves). Tampa Bay Lindback 1-0-0 (30-27).
A—19,204 (19,204). T—2:43.
Tuesday, 7 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet