Adam Oates predicted the Capitals’ season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning would be sloppy and filled with penalties.
He was right on both counts.
The Capitals were indecisive in the defensive zone and gave one of the NHL’s most potent offenses seven power plays en route to a 6-3 loss Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd of 19,204 at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Three power play goals, including two by Marty St. Louis, sent the Caps to their first loss of the season under Oates.
“We had our chances,” Oates said. “A lot of little mistakes, which is to be expected. I think some of the mistakes came from conditioning. We got tired at times. You can’t really give a team a 5-on-3 to start the third period.”
The Caps battled back three times on a pair of goals by Joel Ward and another by Wojtek Wolski to send the game into the third period tied at 3.
But when they opened the third period with back-to-back tripping penalties by Mathieu Perreault [on Adam Hall] and Nicklas Backstrom [on Vinny Lecavalier] the Lightning took advantage.
St. Louis scored the game-winner when he blasted a return pass from Steven Stamkos past Braden Holtby’s glove for a 4-3 lead. Rookie of the Year candidate Cory Conacher made it 5-3 when he finished off a 2-on-1 with Teddy Purcell and Eric Brewer finished it off with Matt Hendricks in the box for roughing.
“We have to stay out of the box,” Caps center Mike Ribeiro said. “Special teams will be the difference in games.”
Ribeiro blamed himself for St. Louis’ game-winner, saying he had a chance to clear the puck on the 5-on-3 but didn’t.
“It was a missed shot,” Ribeiro said. “The puck was bobbling and I tried to clear and [St. Louis] was able to grab it with is hand. If I clear that maybe we kill some more time and it’s a different game.”
While the Caps went 3-for-7 on the power play, the Caps went 1-for-4, with three of their power plays coming in the opening period. The Caps sustained plenty of pressure on their man-advantages but could get only one puck past 6-foot-6 netmidner Anders Lindback.
“That was a big moment for us in the first period,” said Ovechkin, who logged 23:35 in ice time, most among all forwards. “There were a couple of opportunities for the [power-play] units but they were better today with their opportunities.”
The Lightning scored on each of their first two shots and rang up six goals on 34 shots on Braden Holtby, who had trouble picking up shots through screens.
“I don’t fault Holts at all on the goals,” Oates said. “I think it was more all of us.”
Ribeiro said he saw a few bad habits in the loss. Some of them led to penalties, others to scoring chances against.
“At the end of the day discipline will wins you games,” he said. “We can’t give teams five or six goals and expect to win any game. We have to focus defensively and from there we’ll create our offense.
“We came back in our zone a lot of times and swung away. Once we play a little more we need to come back and stop in position.”
That will be Oates’ next assignment when he takes his players into the film room on Monday morning.
Asked if his players were guilty of “swinging” in the defensive zone, Oates said, “In all zones We can’t swing. I think that comes from conditioning. To stop and wait and go again takes way more energy than continually moving. That was part of the deal.”