Rod Langway entered George Washington University Hospital yesterday for treatment of a ruptured disk in his back. Greg Smith remained at Georgetown University Hospital while his severely bruised larynx is nursed back to health.

The Washington Capitals were hurting both on defense and in leadership. Nevertheless, it is necessary in hockey, with its frequent injuries, to overcome such losses and the Capitals did just that Tuesday night in shackling the potent Edmonton Oilers, 4-2.

Langway, the Capitals' captain, has been an anchor on the team's defense since he came here from Montreal in 1982. In 5 1/3 seasons, Langway has missed only 15 games and one could reasonably expect the Capitals to be demoralized in his absence. Yet, the record in those 15 games: 9 victories, 4 losses, 2 ties.

"If Rod's injury becomes a long-term thing, then obviously it will be a major concern," said Coach Bryan Murray. "You don't replace a guy of his quality and leadership very easily. But in the short term, other guys will have to play more -- Scott {Stevens}, Larry {Murphy}, Kevin {Hatcher}, in particular, and they can handle it.

"I told the guys about Rod before last night's game and I told them then that some guys would have to play more and take up the slack. I think they did that very well. Of course, we all have to hope that they can do something to cure Rod's problem fairly quickly."

Langway was injured in the first period Wednesday against Boston. He attempted to skate Sunday and Monday, but developed stiffness and had to skate off. He will remain in the hospital for bed rest and medication and, according to General Manager David Poile, the length of his stay in the hospital and his absence from the team "will be determined by how well he responds to treatment."

Smith was struck in the throat by the stick of Edmonton's Norm Lacombe. Tissue was torn and Smith's breathing was affected. If all goes well, he will be released today, but he has been forbidden physical exercise until at least Tuesday.

Murray said the defensive pairings at yesterday's practice -- Stevens with Garry Galley, Murphy with Paul Cavallini and Hatcher with Bill Houlder -- would hold up for Friday's Capital Centre game against the New York Islanders. But he added that Stevens and Murphy would be asked for extra service in certain situations.

Mike Gartner has assumed Langway's duties as team captain, with Stevens joining Bob Gould as an alternate captain. Gartner has been an alternate and also serves as the team's player representative; Stevens was elevated over a good group of candidates

"Mike Gartner is a good leader and he has an impact when he talks," Murray said. "I don't think you could ask for more of a quality guy to lead your team.

"Dale {Hunter} would be ideal as a captain and Bengt Gustafsson would, too. But what we're doing here is giving the alternate's role to a young player who has had a tremendous impact on our team, who has been here for a while and who has everything that's required to develop into a real leader. We're giving Scott added responsibility to go with added ice time."

Of his expanded role, Stevens said, "I don't mind extra responsibility or pressure. I can handle it. I think it will motivate me to play better. And I think I can be helpful to the young kids. I'm older, I can help them with things and I can still play a strong game.

"It felt kind of weird when Bryan told us about Rod before the game. Rod's missed a few games before and it was no big deal. But now it looks like he'll be out a while. We have to pull together and work harder and some guys will have a lot more ice time. Boston had a lot of injuries and kept winning and we can, too. Injuries are not an excuse to lose."

One player who seemed to thrive with the added ice time over the weekend was Galley, previously considered a power-play specialist with deficiencies on defense.

"That's been against me since I left L.A.," Galley said. "Pat Quinn labeled me as a guy who can't play in his own end. The power play definitely is my strong point, but I think I've shown them I can play defense. I haven't been on for one goal in the six games since they let me play again {after a two-week sentence in the press box}.

"I'm definitely trying to prove the point, because it's hard to shake a label. This gives me a chance to play a lot and even to kill penalties, something I hadn't seen much of. I have a chance to prove myself at both ends of the ice. No one wishes for injuries to happen. But they have happened and now it's my turn to contribute."

Gartner said, "I'm just wearing the C. Rod knows he's captain of this team. Missing a player of Rod's caliber forces other guys to pick up the slack and so far they have. But I wouldn't want it to go on long."

Capitals Notes:

Left wing David Jensen, shipped to Binghamton for two weeks on Nov. 19, will stay there until Monday, when he will meet with Poile to discuss his future. Jensen has cleared NHL waivers . . . The celebrity game scheduled for Dec. 12 has been canceled.