In case there were any doubters, Rod Langway proved he can do it all when he took faceoffs in the Washington end while the Capitals were short-handed late in Saturday's 2-2 NHL tie against the Buffalo Sabres.

Langway was given that important duty when Doug Jarvis, who usually handles the big draws, was forced out with a pulled groin muscle. Langway broke even in four faceoffs and, he pointed out, there was no harm done when he lost one.

"If I win it, fine, and if I lose it, I just eliminate their centerman," Langway said. "With Dougie out, I enjoyed fooling around doing it. I took faceoffs in college with the same kind of setup."

Langway's overall performance Saturday was reminiscent of his Norris Trophy-winning years of 1982-83 and 1983-84. He was in complete command in the Capitals' end, forcing puck carriers away from the net and making quick outlet passes to ease any offensive pressure created by the Sabres, who were limited to 17 shots.

Langway and rookie Kevin Hatcher were working well together and, more important, Langway has been generous with advice in helping the rookie adapt to the NHL. There had been some rough moments in the first five games, which hardly came as a surprise to Coach Bryan Murray.

"I wanted to pair Kevin with Scott (Stevens), partly because Rod in that situation has tried to help too much and wound up outplaying himself," Murray said. "But Kevin and Scott both tried to do too much, so I had to make a change.

"I think it's working very well. Rod almost asked to play with Kevin. He likes the kid, and they blend pretty well together."

Langway said, "It's a challenge playing with Kevin, and I don't mean that in a negative way. He sometimes takes off when he shouldn't, but that's okay. I can work with him.

"It will take a while, but he listens well. He's had a problem being so nervous that the puck rolls on him, but he'll overcome it. He had great legs last night and made some great moves out of our zone."

For his part, Hatcher is delighted to be paired with an all-star who is willing to be an instructor, too.

"In practice, he'll tell me if he sees me doing something wrong," Hatcher said. "It's good to be on a team with two defensemen like Scott and Rod who are good and also willing to help.

"It gives me a lot of confidence to be playing with an all-star defenseman. I know I'm going to make mistakes, but I don't have to worry about it a lot because I know Rod will probably make up for anything bad I do.

"We were running around a bit the first few games, but we just weren't playing together as a team. Nobody was filling for each other. Now we're coming together as a team and I feel great."

Langway took a stick in the left eye during the third period Saturday and was off the ice for about 30 seconds while it was being cared for. He has missed only one game during three-plus seasons in Washington, when a lingering virus flattened him last winter.

Langway enjoyed the spirited competition provided by the weekend series against Buffalo, although he, like most of his teammates, was unhappy with the poor ice at Capital Centre.

"They were two good games and I like to play them," Langway said.

"(Buffalo's Tom) Barrasso showed us some great goaltending and Patty (Riggin) stood on his ear, too. The puck was bouncing for us in Buffalo, but here we didn't get the bounces. We still played well defensively, though. We kept the puck in front of us. They weren't getting behind us.

"The heat and humidity helped to soften the ice. We haven't been home and there hasn't been much skating on it, but it ought to be better when we come back."

The Capitals play road games in Calgary Wednesday, Winnipeg Friday and Chicago Sunday before facing St. Louis at Capital Centre on Oct. 29.

The four-day break gives Jarvis a chance to heal in time to continue his iron-man streak. He has played 806 straight games, second-longest in NHL history behind Garry Unger's 914.

"It's just a groin pull and it's a day-to-day thing," Jarvis said. "Obviously, I'll just have to wait and see how it comes around."

Right wing Ed Kastelic received medical clearance to play yesterday and was assigned to Binghamton of the American Hockey League. Kastelic suffered a broken cheek bone Sept. 29 in an exhibition-game fight with Lyndon Byers of Boston.