The Washington Capitals are running up too many 3-1 deficits. Falling behind by that score for the fourth straight game, the Capitals could not recover tonight and were beaten by the Buffalo Sabres, 4-1.

For further discomfort, defenseman Rod Langway took a Bill Hajt shot above the right knee in the second period and did not return. His knee was immobilized and Langway most likely will be examined at home Monday, the same day Craig Laughlin is due to have his sprained left ankle checked.

"It got me just above the knee, at the split between the pants and the shin guard," Langway said. "I'll see the doctor if I can't move it tomorrow."

The loss dropped the Capitals below .500 (2-3-1) on their longest road trip of the season, which ended here, and left them 11 points behind first-place Philadelphia in the Patrick Division.

The series of 3-1 handicaps began on Long Island, where the Capitals pulled out a 5-4 victory. They rebounded to tie Montreal, 4-4, then lost to the Flyers, 3-1, before this one.

"We played well enough to be in the game, not be behind that way, but then we were," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "We just can't score now. We had plenty of chances, but we just didn't finish. Over a game in the other guy's building, when you get nine outstanding chances, you ought to get more than one goal."

Despite the defeat, Washington managed to split a season series with Buffalo for the first time. The Capitals posted a victory and a tie against the Sabres in October, but tonight's result left them with a 4-37-7 record against the team they have found toughest to beat.

Scotty Bowman, the coach who has given the Capitals the most trouble and who figured to be out of their hair after retiring -- briefly -- last summer, was back behind the Sabres' bench and is 10-7-1 since replacing Jim Schoenfeld on Jan. 17. Bowman has lost to the Capitals only once in 12 years, on a controversial goal at Capital Centre last season.

Vainly firing 16 shots at goalie Tom Barrasso in the third period, Washington wound up with a 35-33 edge on the shot clock. Saturday, the Capitals had a 27-23 margin in Philadelphia.

A crazy bounce sent the Sabres in front midway through the first period. Mike Foligno tried to pass the puck out from behind the Washington net to Lindy Ruff, who was cut off by Alan Haworth. The puck struck Haworth's skate and caromed back to Foligno, who flipped it past Al Jensen for his 32nd goal.

"I took my man out, but the pass in front hit me and went right back onto his blade," Haworth said. "It wasn't a night for good bounces."

Gaetan Duchesne tied it with 2:32 left in the period, hitting the far corner from the top of the left-wing circle after Dave Christian had pulled the puck off the side boards and dished it off to him. Duchesne, who had been foiled by Barrasso on a tough shot a few minutes earlier, has a six-game point streak, longest on the team.

"The first thing for me is still to get the puck out of our zone, but if I can score a goal, I will take the shot," Duchesne said. "I want to hold onto the puck a little more to create something for Bengt Gustafsson and Dave Christian, and they're always giving me chances, too."

The Sabres applied heavy offensive pressure early in the second period and Jensen made several excellent stops before Mike Ramsey connected from the right-wing boards at 9:50.

John Tucker threaded a pass to Ramsey from behind the Washington goalline and Ramsey found a tiny hole in Jensen's armor, low on the short side.

Despite Langway's departure, the Capitals tried hard to bounce back. On one occasion, a long shot by Duchesne skidded between Barrasso's pads, but caromed just outside the post.

Then Washington was betrayed by its power play, which was 0 for 4 tonight and has failed 13 straight times.

Buffalo's Doug Smith, a recent acquisition from Los Angeles, picked off a pass from Christian aimed for Daryl Evans, the newest Capital. Evans hooked Smith as he went in on the breakaway, forcing a wide shot, but with referee Bob Myers signaling a penalty, Washington was unable to get possession of the puck.

Instead, Smith grabbed it again behind the goalline and passed out to Paul Cyr skating down the slot. Cyr's goal, which made it 3-1, was only the third shorthanded score against the Capitals this season.

"We make a mistake and they score, but they made a lot of mistakes and we couldn't take advantage of them," Murray said.

Before the period ended, Gustafsson took a Scott Stevens setup and fired a shot off a post. Christian hit a post in the third period and Barrasso was kept scrambling by a variety of testing shots, but the only goal was produced by the Sabres' Dave Andreychuk, his 27th.

Twenty seconds after Stevens was penalized for interference, Jensen blocked a shot by Cyr and Andreychuk banged the rebound off the goalie's pad into the net. It was the first power-play goal yielded by Washington in five games.

Because of innumerable stoppages in play, it seemed the third period -- and the road trip -- would never end. Barrasso twice became involved in stick-swinging duels, once with Greg Adams and 18 seconds later with Bob Carpenter.

Evans, summoned from Binghamton because of Laughlin's injury, was given a good review by Murray after manning the point on the power play and taking a regular shift at left wing with Mark Taylor and Lou Franceschetti. Evans fired six shots on goal, matching Carpenter for the game's top figure.

"Daryl played all right," Murray said. "He's coming back to Washington and I'm sure we'll give him another game."