Capitals' forward Daniel Winnik is checked by the Oilers' Eric Gryba during Wednesday’s game in Edmonton. (Jason Franson/Associated Press )

As the Washington Capitals filed into the Rogers Place visiting locker room Wednesday night, an unfamiliar feeling settled over them. It had been more than a year and a half since the team had lost back-to-back regular season games in regulation. Defenseman Matt Niskanen described the mood as “uncomfortable.”

“We’re used to winning hockey games,” fellow defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s tough to lose two in a row, but I think what’s a little tougher is that we don’t feel like we’re playing like we can play right now. That’s the part that’s made us feel a little bit sour.”

When the Capitals reflected on their blitzing regular season last year, they often described it as coming easy to them at times as they cruised to a Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record. It was perhaps so easy, in fact, that it didn’t set up Washington for success when a challenging postseason arrived, and the team again fell in the second round.

But facing their first losing streak of this season, the Capitals have an opportunity to make their response for the remainder of their western-Canada road swing an early defining moment in this new journey.

“Hockey’s testing us right now a bit, which is good,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “I think a little bit of adversity never hurts to build a team. Last year, it seemed like every time after a loss, the pucks would bounce our way.”

Holtby said games like Wednesday night’s at Edmonton, which Washington lost, 4-1 , serve as a reminder that wins still have to be earned. The Capitals were also faced with the same set of deficiencies that had plagued them throughout the previous five games: struggles in the second period, sputtering on special teams. Their vaunted power play couldn’t capitalize on its many scoring chances, and the penalty kill allowed its fifth goal this season.

At even strength, Washington had more scoring chances than the Oilers, but despite Capitals Coach Barry Trotz making changes to the top two forward trios, the team managed just one goal and is averaging 2.33 goals per game, a figure that ranks 26th in the league.

“We’re just kind of average in a lot of areas right now, five-on-five and special teams,” Niskanen said. “We’re in the right position a lot of times, but we need that little bit more second and third effort to win a puck or a second and third effort to score a goal or to block a shot, whatever it is. You’ve got to find ways to make those plays and win more battles to have success.”

Said Alzner: “Last year, we were just so hungry all over the ice, and that’s why we had so much success. We just haven’t been as hungry right now. I don’t know if it’s because deep somewhere in our heads, we did that all season long and it still didn’t work for us, so maybe it’s just taking some time to build back up and as the season goes on, we get better. I don’t feel that in the front of my head, but maybe deep in the back, that’s kind of what’s going on. We’re better than how we’ve been playing.”

That the Capitals’ locker room was so somber after a road loss to a Western Conference opponent in the sixth game of the season was perhaps an encouraging sign that the team is still taking the regular season seriously. Niskanen bluntly said that “guys need to do their jobs,” while captain Alex Ovechkin was critical of his own performance, saying that better execution going forward starts with him.

Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup after they had struggled so mightily that they required a midseason coaching change; it galvanized them the rest of the way. The Capitals’ current slump isn’t nearly as dire — and it’s likely not going to be the only time they stumble this season — but it’s an early test of discomfort for the group.

With a locker room now united in its feeling of disappointment, Washington will have its opportunity to change the mood around the team when it plays Vancouver on Saturday. The game could mean more for the long-term trajectory of the Capitals’ season than just the two points at stake.

“I think we’ve got the right elements to do what we can do,” Trotz said. “But there has to be a level of everybody being all in. You can’t be half in. I know there’s a lot of games in the regular season, but there’s a lot of good teams. . . . It’s all right. We’ll have a little adversity and hopefully make us better.”