Capitals right wing Jay Beagle, left, and left wing Marcus Johansson celebrate Johansson's empty net goal against Calgary on Sunday. Johansson had four goals and an assist in back-to-back games in Vancouver and Calgary. (Candice Ward/USA Today Sports)

The Washington Capitals’ western Canada swing started with the second of back-to-back regular season losses in regulation for the first time since March 2015. A team that had hoped not to be grumpy during the first long road trip of the season was suddenly exactly that.

But the frustration and disappointment were also encouraging, signs that the Capitals deeply cared, even early in the season. They won their next three games in Canada, the offense sparked by re-jiggered forward trios and the special teams back on track. The team flew back to Washington in considerably higher spirits after inching closer to establishing their on-ice identity.

“We don’t want to have a lull, with the comfort of being back home. We need to keep pushing forward,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “Sometimes after a road trip, the next game you come out a little flat-footed. I think we have a veteran enough group in here to know that, and make sure we’re prepared.”

“I think that we found a little bit of our mojo,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We’re just playing with a little more energy, a little more passion and really starting to grind teams down. Guys are having fun and feeling it.”

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby stops Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers during the second period of Washington’s 3-2 win Monday night. Holtby made 43 saves. (John Woods/AP)

Alzner’s pun was unintentional, but one of the positives coming out of the trip for Washington was the burst of offense from forward Marcus Johansson, called “MoJo” by fans. He’s scored five goals in three games — six for the season — and leads the team with 11 points. His hot streak started when Capitals Coach Barry Trotz shuffled the lines before Saturday’s game at Vancouver, when Washington was 27th in the league in goals per game.

Trotz created a second line of center Evgeny Kuznetsov with Tom Wilson and Johansson. In three games, that trio has produced three goals. The Capitals have one of the league’s best Corsi-for percentages (53.4), meaning that they’re taking the bulk of the shot attempts in games. In working to establish an identity, Washington has been a strong possession team, exhausting opponents with a lot of offensive zone time.

“I think your identity has got to be long term,” Trotz said. “Hopefully, we’re starting something.”

The trip started with a 4-1 loss at Edmonton, and after the game, defenseman Matt Niskanen said the Capitals were “just kind of average” in several areas. That certainly applied to Washington’s special teams; the penalty kill had been scored on in all but one game and though the power play was generating good scoring chances, it was struggling to find the net.

Since that loss, the penalty kill has been perfect in nine times shorthanded, getting its overall percentage up to 81.5, ranked 15th in the league. Johansson scored on the power play against Vancouver and Calgary, helping revive that unit.

“I feel like we’re starting to play our game and get our identity as a team,” Beagle said. “At the beginning of the year, you’ve always got to work to find that identity and find that because it’s a new group, even though the core group, everyone came back. But still with a new team, you’ve got to find it. We’re starting to get in a rhythm.”

Some of that could be from familiarity. Long road trips such as the western Canada swing, which lasted a week and was spread across three time zones, can be a bonding experience early in the season. The Capitals’ only new additions are forwards Zach Sanford, Brett Connolly and Lars Eller, and all three seemed to pick up nicknames on the road. Sanford is now “Sanny.” Connolly is “Conno” or “Conns.” Eller is “The Lar.”

The team’s growth off the ice can carry over to what it does on it.

“Everyone’s starting to talk a little bit more now,” Alzner said. “You can, I think, see it in their play, too, just feel more comfortable, not worried about making mistakes, just going out there and having fun. These trips are mandatory. You need to have something where you can go out and just let loose and show another side to the guy or show your other side to them, too, because a lot of times that’s what helps.

“We’re feeling it now with everybody. You can definitely see it in our game. We’re feeling a lot better, and I think battling a lot harder. It took a couple of road games for that to happen.”