ATLANTA -- Washington's offseason New York shopping spree already is paying off.
Free-agent signees Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov scored goals and rookie Nicklas Backstrom added an assist in his NHL debut as the Capitals beat the Atlanta Thrashers 3-1 on Friday in the season opener for both teams.
"It's like a dream come true," Backstrom said. "It's my first game. What can you say?"
The additions of Nylander, who had 26 goals for the Rangers, and Kozlov, who had 25 goals for the Islanders, gives Washington five players who had 25 goals last season -- tied with Carolina and Colorado for the most in the league.
Nylander, who helped the Rangers sweep the Thrashers in the first round of the playoffs last season, scored the first goal for the Capitals with an assist from Backstrom. Less than two minutes later, John Erskine added another goal for a 2-0 lead.
After Atlanta scored in the second period to cut the Washington lead to 2-1, Kozlov added a third-period goal.
"It's very important to start the season the right way," Kozlov said.
Atlanta never recovered.
"We certainly didn't skate very well, and that put us on our heels," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said.
Brent Johnson stopped 28 shots for the Capitals, who outshot the Thrashers 40-29.
The Thrashers' only goal was scored by rookie Bryan Little in his NHL debut. Kovalchuk had an assist on the play.
"I thought those two guys were our two best players, by far," Hartley said. "Little brought lots of energy to our team."
Backstrom made good on his much-anticipated debut for the Capitals. The 19-year-old Backstrom, Washington's 2006 first-round pick from Sweden, earned the Capitals' first assist of the season when he set up Nylander's power-play shot from the right circle midway through the opening period.
"Nick had a really strong first game," Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. "For a player still not 20 years old, we have great expectations for him. ... He seemed to be in the right spot all night, on offense and defense."
Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen appeared to be caught off-guard about 1½ minutes after Nylander's goal when Erskine fired a slap shot from beyond the left circle for an unassisted goal and a 2-0 lead.
Johnson's strong game was especially good news for the Capitals, who were only 6-16-8 last season without goalie Olie Kolzig.
Little, also a first-round pick in 2006, scored on a second-effort backhand shot from the left side of the net with about five minutes left in the second period.
Washington pushed the lead to 3-1 at the 5:27 mark of the third period on Kozlov's goal.
Washington star Alexander Ovechkin, who has 29 career points against Atlanta -- more than against any other team -- assisted Kozlov's third-period goal.
"I thought Ovechkin played his best game," Hanlon said. "He was so sound all over the ice. He is going to score goals for us, but he does so many things well."
- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attended the game.
- Atlanta raised the banner for its 2006-07 Southeast Division championship before the game.
- Little is the first Thrashers player to score a goal in his NHL debut.
- Erskine scored only his fifth goal in 171 career games.
- The Capitals could not take advantage of a two-man advantage for 1:44 late in the second period and also were denied in a two-man advantage for 29 seconds in the third period.