Rod Langway was wandering around after the Capitals practiced yesterday, waiting for his turn on camera. Mumbling a little as he memorized his lines, squinting against those white hot lights, he wanted to look like a real pro.

Washington's newest captain isn't going to swap his jersey for a sweater and a microphone. Langway and teammate Mike Gartner merely were taping some public-service announcements against drunk driving. While Gartner zipped through his script with perfect timing, the off-camera Langway called out, "Do you know me? . . . don't leave home without it."

Not a chance. Langway, who came to Washington from Montreal in the big deal, has a leading role on the newly confident Capitals.

"They've been all the difference (on defense)," said the assistant coach, Terry Murray, referring to Langway and Brian Engblom, who practiced yesterday after suffering a mild concussion Wednesday. "They're two all-star defensemen, and any time people like that come in, it doesn't matter how good a team was, it'll get better.

"(Darren) Veitch has played well, but playing with Langway gives him more confidence. (Rookie) Scott Stevens, working with Engblom -- it's great for an 18-year-old kid."

And Coach Bryan Murray has repeatedly made the point that Rick Green, who went to the Canadiens with Ryan Walter, was not able to handle the defensive chores alone.

With Langway as a bulwark at the blueline, the Capitals can and do take more offensive chances. "We can play with more confidence, because we know the defense is there to back us up," said Gartner. "We don't have to hesitate as much."

Although Langway says he has not had to adjust his own playing form, he would like to see Washington adopt a successful Canadiens ploy.

"People always talk about the offensive style of Montreal," he said. "But it's really the opposite: it's defense-minded. They just transfer from offense to defense so fast. You shouldn't think, oh, we missed an offensive chance, but you get back to defense."

Langway is pleased that he was not on the ice for any of the Toronto goals in the Capitals' 5-3 victory there Wednesday night. "I do take pride in that," he said. "I'm trying to get Darren (Veitch) and the others to see that you don't need to press and try to score points. If you stay out of trouble, the goals will come."

Named team captain last week, Langway downplays the role. "I just wear the 'C'," he said. "There are at least five or six other guys who are leaders on this team."

He has always believed "defense is six guys on the ice -- and that's because I've always played with guys who thought that the goals will come."

Langway's logic is a perfect fit with the Capitals' emphasis on what Terry Murray calls cooperation from "the third man."

"We don't designate any special player, but one of the wingers, say a Ted Bulley, will come into the zone later. It's his responsibility to work with the defensemen," he said.

As the season settles in, Langway doesn't want to see his club pressing too hard. "To me, it's one game at a time, good or bad," he said. "A guy might play well, and he thinks, what did I do, so I can do it again? But no, that doesn't work. You have to be in each one separately. Good or bad, sweep it by and go to the next one."

Although Langway is playing well now -- ask the bruised opponents who crash into his 6-foot-3 frame -- he predicts more to come. "Once you're not living out of a suitcase, it's easier," he said. "You can just come to the rink and work on the fine points of your game."