WASHINGTON — Lightning coach Jon Cooper said you could have circled Friday's game at the Verizon Center before the season as one that would be trouble.
It was the third game in four nights and the second of a back-to-back.
"But what made it worse was the first shift," Cooper said.
The Capitals scored on the first shot of the night 55 seconds into the game and won 4-0 to send the Lightning limping into the four-game Christmas break.
"It was almost embarrassing the way we came out," Alex Killorn said.
The Lightning brought a two-game winning streak into the game, modest but significant for the way the team has struggled this month. But for the second straight night the Lightning fell behind 2-0 in the first period on goals by John Carlson.
Unlike Thursday night against the Blues, there would not be a comeback.
"We've put ourselves in too many holes," Anton Stralman said. "We came back (Thursday). Tonight we didn't have it."
The Caps finished the first period with two goals. The Lightning finished with two shots on goal.
"You have to have a little more jump coming out of the gate," Stralman said.
What would a Lightning game be without some injuries? This one was no different.
The second intermission ended and only 18 Lightning returned from the dressing room, and that included backup goalie Kristers Gudlevskis.
There were supposed to be 20.
Defensemen Hedman and Braydon Coburn and left wing Jonathan Drouin each left during the second period. Drouin returned to the ice before the end of the period but did not return for the third.
Hedman returned for the final period.
"It's been the tale of our December," Cooper said, "guys getting hurt."
Cooper didn't provide updates for Coburn or Drouin, saying both needed further evaluation.
The injuries didn't help the Lightning's chances of a comeback.
But Killorn said the team can no longer use injuries as an excuse. The team is used to them by now.
"Regardless, the effort wasn't there," he said. "We didn't play a 200-foot game."
The Lightning showed some life at the start of the second, but Caps goalie Braden Holtby was solid.
"We needed to score that third goal," Cooper said.
Instead, that third goal was provided by Alex Ovechkin, who took a feed just inside the blue line and skated in alone on Vasilevskiy, beating him with a backhand shot midway through the period.
Vasilevskiy, playing in his first back-to-back of the season due to Ben Bishop's injury, was pulled after Marcus Johansson made it 4-0 at 8:33 of the third. Cooper said that had more to do with the game being all but over and his wanting to get Gudlevskis some playing time.
Stralman said it was a disappointing way to head into the break. He felt the Lightning was finally playing like the Lightning teams of the past few years. There was a solid win Tuesday against the Red Wings and the comeback against the Blues.
"The break's coming at a good time," he said. "We have to reload and get back at it."
First Period—1, Washington, Carlson 2 (Wilson, Alzner), 0:55. 2, Washington, Carlson 3 (Johansson, Backstrom), 15:42.
Second Period—3, Washington, Ovechkin 15 (Orlov), 10:48.
Third Period—4, Washington, Johansson 13 (Backstrom), 8:33.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 2-9-12—23. Washington 10-10-7—27.
Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Washington 0 of 2.
Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 8-5-1 (24 shots-20 saves), Gudlevskis 0-0-0 (3-3). Washington, Holtby 15-7-3 (23-23).
A—18,506 (18,506). T—2:31. Referees—Ghislain Hebert, Kelly Sutherland. Linesmen—Matt MacPherson, Tim Nowak.