The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers continued to streak in different directions last night.

Mike Gartner, Alan Haworth, Bob Carpenter and Gaetan Duchesne scored the goals that carried the Capitals to a 4-2 victory before 15,146 at Capital Centre.

That gave Washington nine triumphs and a tie in its last 11 games and moved the Capitals within three points of first-place Philadelphia in the Patrick Division.

When the Capitals and Rangers meet again tonight in New York, the Rangers will be bearing fifth-place status. Winners of only three of their last 20 games, they dropped a point behind surging Pittsburgh.

As last night's contest ended, Rangers General Manager Craig Patrick and assistant coach Carol Vadnais remained seated in the press box, no doubt wondering what they can do to revive a struggling team that is only two points ahead of last-place New Jersey.

The injury-riddled Rangers got 26 shots on goal last night, but beat Pat Riggin only twice despite some loose play by the Capitals' defense.

Glen Hanlon, a hero as the New Yorkers won two of three previous meetings with Washington, blocked 37 shots, but the Capitals took advantage of his shaky play to score twice in the first period and the Rangers never caught up.

Hanlon dropped a routine shot by Gary Sampson, permitting Gartner to pounce on the rebound for the first score; Carpenter had picked off a pass by Nick Fotiu in center ice and fed the puck ahead to Sampson. Then Hanlon muffed Haworth's low slap shot from outside the right wing circle 28 seconds before period's end; Bengt Gustafsson had passed to Haworth as he crossed the Rangers' blueline.

"We got 41 shots and only four goals, so he made a lot of good stops," Haworth said. "But we were taking some long shots early, because he was shaky a bit on them. I scored from a bad angle. I was just trying to shoot more, because I haven't been shooting that much the last few games."

After Ranger Dave Gagner took advantage of a giveaway by Rod Langway to halve the margin, Carpenter and Duchesne made good to put the game beyond reach of a team that has not scored more than four goals in a game since Nov. 9.

Carpenter had a full night's work in the second period. Besides his 23rd goal, he kicked in one that didn't count, hit a post on a rebound, lost control on a breakaway, fired three shots that Hanlon blocked and needed treatment after being cross-checked to the ice by Willie Huber.

"He whiplashed me," Carpenter said. "He hit a nerve or something, because my neck was really sore in the back."

The no-goal ruling by referee Ron Fournier, with the score 2-1, brought a spirited protest from the Capitals, but there was little doubt that Carpenter had kicked the puck across after Hanlon stopped a backhander by Dave Christian.

"I didn't have time to settle the puck, so I tried to kick it under my stick and deflect it with the stick," Carpenter said. "I did it in the Winnipeg game and it worked. But this time a guy cross-checked me and I wasn't able to get my stick on it."

That close call occurred while Hanlon was under considerable power play pressure from Washington. Not long after the sides were equalized, Gartner made a fine pass from the right wing boards into the slot and Sampson loosed a shot that Hanlon blocked but could not control. Carpenter made sure this rebound was legal.

Duchesne, a standout all night, netted the clincher after prying the puck away from two Rangers along the rear boards. He skated unchallenged out into the slot and sent the puck over the flopping Hanlon.

Huber's first goal of the season, on a shot from the blueline, completed the scoring with 13:20 remaining.

As usual, in a season that has seen the Capitals engage in few fights, there was one with the Rangers. The contestants were Ranger George McPhee and Timo Blomqvist, who objected to a slash by McPhee.

Blomqvist's major penalty was only the ninth of the season against Washington; six have come in games with the Rangers.

New York, which has seen 18 players sit out 158 man games ill or injured, played without Barry Beck, sore instep; Ron Greschner, shoulder separation; Mike Allison, knee injury; Don Maloney, broken leg; Simo Saarinen, torn knee ligaments; Mark Pavelich, broken leg; Mark Osborne, hip injury, and Pierre Larouche, flu.

Asked how he felt about playing this crippled club again tonight, Washington Coach Bryan Murray replied, "Pretty good. Our guys are aware that the Rangers played pretty well the second half of the hockey game, and it shouldn't be hard to motivate them."

Bob Mason will be in the Washington nets tonight, with center Glen Currie and defenseman Dave Shand sitting out their third game in a row.