The 18,130 spectators at Capital Centre last night received a copy of the Washington Capitals' 1989-90 highlight video. It's a safe bet they won't see themselves on next year's version.

The Capitals' effort was much better than Wednesday night in Toronto, but then so was the opponent. The Chicago Blackhawks handed the Capitals their fourth straight defeat, 4-3.

The Capitals had won five in a row before starting their skid. The only other losing streak of this length under Coach Terry Murry came in the Wales Conference finals last spring.

"We worked hard for 60 minutes," said Murray, who couldn't say the same thing of the loss to the Maple Leafs. "But we hurt ourselves in the first five minutes when we went down, 2-0. We were playing catch-up all night."

That's an ill-advised approach against the Blackhawks, who stayed within two points of the New York Rangers in the overall NHL standings. Goals by Wayne Presley and Jeremy Roenick gave the Blackhawks a cushion to work with.

The Capitals fought back to tie on goals by Calle Johansson and Michal Pivonka, but Michel Goulet and Dave Manson scored for Chicago, pushing their lead to 4-2. The Capitals' Mikhail Tatarinov then scored his second goal in as many games, but it wasn't enough.

"We had solid goaltending and good defense," said Chicago Coach Mike Keenan, whose goalie, Ed Belfour, raised his league-leading record to 13-4-1. "We were opportunistic when we had our chances."

The Capitals will try to end their ignominious run tonight at 7:30 at Hartford Civic Center against the Whalers. They will do so without captain Rod Langway. The defenseman missed the Toronto game because of his divorce trial. He was ready to play last night until a team physician looked at his right eye and decided it wasn't well enough for him to play.

Langway will miss tonight's game because of the eye and Monday's in Detroit because of the resumption of the trial.

Joel Quenneville replaced Langway for a second straight night and may do so again tonight as he, Dave Tippett and Mike Liut return to face their former teammates.

Meanwhile, returning to the Capitals from Baltimore will be defenseman Chris Felix and left wing Bob Joyce. Joyce sprained his ankle in training camp, then was banished to Baltimore with the team talking about trading him. John Purves will go the other way.

The Capitals have had trouble scoring, which made last night's opening six minutes more critical.

Tatarinov got caught in deep, and on the ensuing two-on-one break, Steve Thomas fed Presley for a slap shot that trickled under the arm of Liut and across the goal line for a 1-0 lead with 4:41 gone.

Then, with Presley in the penalty box, Kevin Hatcher didn't look up before passing to Pivonka from behind his net. Steve Larmer intercepted and fed Roenick for an easy goal and a 2-0 lead with just 5:24 gone.

"Those two goals in the first part of the game hurt us pretty bad," said John Druce, who had one assist.

Johansson, off a pass from Peter Bondra, fired a slap shot past Belfour to cut the deficit to 2-1 after one period. Pivonka then deflected Hatcher's shot for a power-play goal and a 2-2 tie with 10:59 left in the second. But Goulet redirected Chris Chelios's pass from the boards and the Blackhawks were back up, 3-2.

Manson trailed a Chicago break and one-timed a slap shot for 4-2 edge with 11:23 left in the period for what proved to be the winner. Tatarinov scored a power-play goal with 7:40 left. Tatarinov moves the puck beautifully, putting passes right on the stick. But he seems to want the perfect shot, passing up good ones.

"I wish instead of the second fake, he would give one, then shoot," said Murray. "He gets everyone on the edge of their seats and then you have to slide back. I'd like to jump up and scream for him more."