The Washington Times - January 20, 2013, 07:53AM

Welcome to the newest feature here on Capitals Watch: Morning After. It’s a shortened season, so there’s less time to pick over the details of each game, but as Brooks Laich said recently, it also means: “[while] it’s not like the NFL, but in a way that every single game is gonna be scrutinized so much more.”

So, welcome. I’m essentially stealing my colleague Rich Campbell’s “Initial Thoughts” blog idea, renaming it and doing it with the Caps instead of the Redskins. My hope is that this can serves as something of a postgame notebook, with analysis that you can’t get in the paper or in online stories.

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GAME 1: LIGHTNING 6, CAPS 3

TAMPA, Fla. | Let’s start with Joel Ward, Washington’s brightest spot on a night that fell apart in the third period. Ward, relegated and, frankly, underused under coach Dale Hunter, scored twice in the season opener when given more responsibilities by Adam Oates.

All Ward wanted was a chance to contribute, and so the right wing with six goals all of last season is already a third of the way there.

I was excited to get one there. … I got another one there, a lucky bounce in,” Ward said. “If I can kind of just continue with my linemates and stay on the plus side of things,it gives our team a better chance of winning games.”

Scoring is going to have to come from somewhere, and Ward is on the power play so he can score goals like he did. His other came on a delayed penalty call on the Lightning.

Either way, he was on the ice and in front of the net. That’s what the Caps need out of Ward.

***

Alex Ovechkin looked close to invisible after the first 10 minutes of the game, so much of which was spent on the power play. He did see some penalty-killing time, but he wasn’t as noticeable when he wasn’t blasting away on the power play.

Ovechkin finished with four shots … all of them in the first period. We’ll talk to Oates and Ovechkin on Monday about what happened, and whether the Lightning did something different to take the superstar’s looks away.

One stat that’s hard to ignore after a 6-3 loss that featured 15 skaters on the ice registering a point is that the Caps’ top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson ended up with a total of zero. That wasn’t the primary culprit, but that cannot happen often in these kinds of games.

***

Didn’t get a chance to get to the locker room in time to ask Braden Holtby about a weird game. He allowed six goals on 34 shots, but there wasn’t one that stood out as his fault.

Oates saw it the same way, at least initially.

You know what, I don’t fault Holts at all on the goals. I think it was more all of us,” the Caps’ coach said. “And he played hard. Once again I’ll talk to the goalie coach and we’ll evaluate that on Monday.”

There’s plenty of talk about the Caps flipping the switch from Dale Hunter hockey to this new, up-tempo style. If more shots are coming his way from close-in and on the penalty kill, that will be an adjustment for Holtby, too.

***

While on the subject of goaltenders, Anders Lindback is tall. As a colleague pointed out, it’s funny to see a guy drop into the butterfly and still have his shoulders reach the crossbar.

Caps center Mike Ribeiro knew Lindback would drop down when he aimed to score or at least create a rebound on what became Wojtek Wolski’s goal.

But Lindback was solid. He “stood tall,” to remember Hunter’s often-used cliché: 27 saves on 30 shots.

He made key saves,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. “He made key saves that were a difference-maker for us.”

If Lindback can be at least average, the Lightning look to have enough depth of scoring and on the blue line to be a playoff team.

***

Oates pointed to “conditioning” as one of the primary reasons the Caps lost his head coaching debut. The most common response to my story about conditioning and penalties was that conditioning was an issue for both teams.

Well, maybe not. And it’s not necessarily Oates’ fault. He had to teach brand new systems in six days, while the Lightning got to emphasize conditioning last week.

Boucher said it was the game plan to wear down the Caps because his team felt in shape for the third period.

I really believe game shape and chemistry,” Boucher said. “The game shape that we talked about, that we focused so much on during the week really made a difference. You could feel at the end of the second period. You could see it in the other team, you could see it in our players.”

Penalty trouble when tired ultimately cost the Caps dearly.

***

Tom Poti had an assist in his first NHL game in over two years. His comeback game from a groin injury/fractured pelvis was up and down, but the fact that the 35-year-old defenseman was playing was a milestone and a half.

Poti said he felt good, no pain or anything. But it did take a couple of shifts to get his timing right.

The game was definitely a lot faster than what I was used to down in Hershey,” said Poti, who played twice for the Bears on a conditioning stint. “The timing thing will come, and I think it was OK out there.”

***

Marty St. Louis is 37 years old, but he was arguably the best player on the ice Saturday night with three points and even more chances. He was one of the keys for the Lightning, along with 33-year-old defenseman Eric Brewer and 32-year-old center Vinny Lecavalier.

Asked about his older veterans setting the tone, Boucher said: “I’m not surprised because this was a pressure game.”