WASHINGTON -- Nicklas Backstrom surveyed his options but when he was ready to distribute the puck near the offensive blue line, it disappeared on him. He whiffed, and it floated into the neutral zone.
Alex Ovechkin crept in from his typical spot on the power play and the puck came right to him, in a broken play no less. The goaltender scrambled, but the puck tumbled and Ovechkin wasn't able to snap off a shot before Jaroslav Halak was ready.
It was two moments in a game that featured many more, but the two best players for the Washington Capitals having their world-class skills elude them at an inopportune time because of unfortunate luck or an unpredictable hop by the puck was symbolic of the rest of this night.
Washington turned over the puck too much, missed connections on too many passes, and flubbed away too many opportunities in a 4-1 defeat against the New York Islanders on Wednesday in Game 1 of this best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series at Verizon Center.
"I don't think our execution was there," Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. "It starts with thinking quicker and moving quicker. I don't think we did that well in the first period. The result was that we looked like a slow team. It has to get better."
The Islanders' first goal came after a Troy Brouwer turnover in the neutral zone and goaltender Braden Holtby put his glove where he thought Brock Nelson's stoppable shot was going but it didn't end up there.
New York's second goal came after Washington failed to execute a relatively harassment-free breakout, icing the puck instead. It led to Islanders center John Tavares winning a draw and Ryan Strome picking a corner.
The third goal was the result of Kyle Okposo's mix of skill and will, beating multiple Capitals to retain the puck, and eventually Josh Bailey was left alone near the side of the net with two cracks at solving a diving, desperate Holtby.
"Exactly what we expected. We know they are really good in the neutral zone, and we didn't manage the puck very well," Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "The first goal was a good example of that. If you turn the puck over against them, they are a really good in the transition team. They made us pay a few times."
Washington lacked precision in the first period. When the Capitals were able to set up in the offensive zone, they were unable to connect on that one final pass after a cycle to create the scoring chance. When they were loose with the puck, the counterattacking Islanders pounced.
As the game wore on, the Capitals struggled to generate any sort of rhythm until after it was 3-1. There were fumbled pucks that led to offsides calls, missed outlet passes that led to icings, and multiple rebound opportunities that simply slipped past their sticks. John Carlson corralled one with Halak out of the net but shot the puck into an Islanders defenseman.
Even two stoppages in play to repair the glass around the rink contributed to a disjointed feel.
"I think the whole game was pretty sloppy," Capitals forward Curtis Glencross said. "That can happen with it being the playoffs. We'll definitely try to [be more crisp] as the series going on."
The Islanders took advantage of an early mistake, found some open ice when needed, and looked comfortable protecting a lead considering the age and lack of postseason experience for many of their key players.
The Capitals looked a bit off at times. They were in the right places a lot in Game 1, but getting bodies and the puck to those places in synch was a problem.
They'll try to even the series in Game 2 at Verizon Center on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, CSN-DC).
"We didn't execute breakouts or in the neutral zone," Backstrom said. "I think that is part of the game that we have to be better at the game too if we're going to win. I think passing in today's hockey is so important, and we didn't give [Ovechkin] a good pass today. It's hard, though. We've got to play a little quicker and have better passes. I don't think it's something wrong with the work ethic. I feel like everyone is working and playing physical."