Defenseman Rod Langway does not play 60 minutes of every game for the Washington Capitals, although it sometimes seems that way.

During the Capitals' current six-game unbeaten streak, Langway has been one of the three stars five times, has earned six assists and has a plus-10 rating.

Nevertheless, Langway's ice time actually has declined during that period, dropping to a low of 23 minutes during Thursday's tense 3-1 victory over Minnesota.

It is part of an attempt by Coach Bryan Murray to keep the Capitals' lone all-star fresh and healthy down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Early in the season, Langway played as much as 32 minutes a game, with occasional power-play duty and mandatory penalty-killing service, as well as extra shifts in key situations.

"Right now I think his ice time is pretty reasonable, averaging 28 to 29 minutes," Murray said. "Any of the top players--Denis Potvin, Barry Beck, Larry Robinson--plays close to what he plays.

"I've tried to cut it back a bit from what it was earlier and when Darren Veitch gets back to full duty I hope to go with three sets of defensemen and cut it even more. But Rod is big and strong and I see no concern with wearing him out."

Scouts from other NHL teams have admired Langway's play, but they wonder whether he might be burned out by playoff time, considering the pressure he faces in the most difficult situations night after night. Langway laughs at the thought.

"I never think of it," Langway said. "I feel good. I'm seeing about the same ice time I did in Montreal. We're going basically with four defensemen, I'm not on the power play and the only real difference comes in certain games where more penalty killing may be necessary."

Langway, 6 feet 3, has bounced between 202 and 212 pounds this season, but prefers to play at about 210.

"When I was down to 202--it was really just one day--I was dehydrated and I had cramps," Langway said. "I went to vitamins, ate more and got the weight back up."

On occasion, during difficult stretches of the schedule, Murray has suggested that Langway take things easier, only to be rebuffed.

"He had lost six or seven pounds and I was a little concerned," Murray said. "I suggested he take it easy in practice, but he told me that wasn't a good thing to do. Then I told him to take a day off; he was the first one out there."

"It's nice to hear the coach say to stay home, but I would feel bad for the guys who play only three or four shifts a game and come out and find guys missing," Langway said. "If a few guys take off, then everybody should have the option to take off."

There were many optional practices in Montreal, but Langway did not stay away there, either.

"We had a saying that optional was derived from the Latin word optari, which meant 'be there,' " Langway said. "I never looked it up; I just made sure I was there."

As for easing up in practice, Langway said, "If I let up, everybody else might think it was an easy walk and not get anything out of the practice. Besides, if I let up in practice, I probably won't work in the game. I practice hard so I'll be ready to go hard in the games."

The fans around the NHL and those who select the postgame stars can attest to how hard Langway goes in the games.

"He's invaluable on and off the ice," Murray said. "His work habits and character on the ice set a tremendous example. Off the ice he's a very, very good captain. He's well spoken and sometimes outspoken. He's a big factor in our team unity concept. In every area, he's been excellent."

Al Jensen will be in the nets tonight when the New Jersey Devils visit Capital Centre at 8. Pat Riggin, with a career 6-0 record against the Nordiques, will play in Quebec Sunday. In a schedule change, WTOP-1500 will broadcast that game at 7:30 . . . Murray praised Jensen's work at yesterday's practice: "Al Jensen is just amazing. In the first half hour, skating one on one and two on two, not a goal was scored" . . . Veitch, who suffered a broken collarbone Oct. 27, will return to action this weekend. A decision will be made at this morning's skate whether he will play for the Capitals here tonight or for Hershey in Baltimore Sunday.