ATLANTA -- As his first game as an NHL coach neared, John Anderson feared his lessons weren't sinking in with his Atlanta players.
The rookie coach's nerves were so bad he "had about 10 Rolaids" before his Thrashers provided real relief with a surprisingly strong offensive showing in their opener.
Maybe Atlanta's players were listening to the new coach after all, even if it didn't show in a 1-5 preseason.
"With so many new guys and so many different things we are doing out there, it's hard to change the things the guys are used to doing," Anderson said. "It's a work in progress, but the way we are scoring goals, that's what I've been trying to talk about all summer."
Anderson, who said his stomach "was not good" before the game, soon felt better as the Thrashers scored the first three goals.
Little said Anderson "was just as excited as a player out there, and that is what is special about him."
Capitals goalie Jose Theodore didn't make it through the second period of his debut with the team, giving up four goals before he was pulled. However, Mike Green scored two goals on one power play in the second period as the Capitals rallied from deficits of 3-1 and 4-2 for a 4-4 tie.
The tie held until the Thrashers scored two goals in a span of 29 seconds in the third period.
The 20-year-old Little, who scored one of the three first-period goals against Theodore, gave Atlanta a 5-4 lead with a shot from the right circle with 6:03 left in regulation. Colby Armstrong also beat Washington backup goalie Brent Johnson with another shot from the right circle. Todd White scored on a pass from Ilya Kovalchuk later in the period.
The Thrashers won their opener one year after an 0-6 start led to a last-place finish in the Southeast Division.
"The way we started last year we wanted to come out and get our first win of the season with our first game," Little said, adding the opener against the defending Southeast Division champs "could not have gone any better."
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau called the loss "unacceptable."
"There were too many guys not doing their job," Boudreau said. "When you don't do your job, anyone can score seven goals."
Theodore stopped only 13 of 17 shots.
"The last thing you want to do is pull your goalie on opening night," said Boudreau, who called the fourth goal allowed by Theodore "pretty weak."
"We were still in the game at that time," Boudreau said. "I thought Brent would give us a lift, and he did for the next 20 minutes or so."
Johnson gave up three goals in the final 6:03.
"We can't have third-period shortcomings like that when the game is tied," Johnson said, adding he didn't expect to replace Theodore.
"You don't want to be in that position," Johnson said. "You don't want that to happen to your partner."
Theodore was not available for comment.
Washington star Alex Ovechkin was held without a point on six shots.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 39 shots for Atlanta.
Ron Hainsey and Marty Reasoner, two of Atlanta's eight players added since the end of last season, and Little scored for a 3-0 lead against Theodore, the 2002 NHL MVP with Montreal who was Washington's only offseason addition.
Alexander Semin answered with a goal late in the period for the Capitals, and David Steckel scored a short-handed goal in the second period, tipping in a rebound of Tom Poti's shot, to cut Atlanta's lead to 3-2.
The 32-year-old Theodore, who signed a two-year, $9 million contract with Washington, was pulled after giving up Slava Kozlov's goal at the 9:30 mark of the second period, only 20 seconds after Steckel's goal.
The Capitals, trailing 4-2 after Kozlov's goal, took advantage of a 4-minute high-sticking penalty against Reasoner midway through the second period to tie the score on two goals by Green.
The Capitals had a 43-31 edge in shots on goal. ... Lehtonen deflected Ovechkin's penalty shot 4:01 into the third period. The shot was awarded after a Thrashers defender closed his hand on the puck in the crease. ... D Zach Begrosian became the youngest player in Thrashers history to appear in a regular-season game. Begrosian, the team's first-round pick, is 18 years and 87 days old. Kovalchuk was 18 years and 172 days old when he made his debut on Oct. 4, 2001. Begrosian earned the first penalty of the game for holding after he had been on the ice only 24 seconds. The rookie's initiation ended when he was pounded by Washington's Donald Brashear in the final seconds as Brashear earned a penalty for roughing.