The nose is fixed, although now maybe it's just a less-challenging dogleg. There is not as much hair on top, the knees ache and the back requires enough ice to keep his three children supplied with snow cones until they, like their father, are 33 years old.

Nonetheless, Rod Langway still is going strong, still pinning opposing wingers in the corner, preventing them from making a move to the net. A few more might wiggle free and beat him to the puck than did a few years ago, but when the game is tight and there is a faceoff near the Washington Capitals' goal, Langway almost always is one of the two defensemen on the ice.

"I want to play as long as I feel I'm not embarrassing myself," Langway said yesterday. "Certainly, there are times when they dump the puck in my corner, figuring I've lost a step. But if I don't feel like I can get to the puck, I might more or less let them beat me, but I know where they are going. I'm playing more with my experience than my skill. I might not look like I'm getting there, but I'm still getting the job done."

Langway now is 42 games into his ninth season with the Capitals and 13th in the NHL.

"He is playing his role very well," Coach Terry Murray said.

Both Langway and the Capitals would like him to finish his career here. It may work out that way, but there is a chance it will not. He is playing out the option on his contract. Once this season is over, he will be free to negotiate with other teams.

Unlike Scott Stevens, who at 26 was in the high-compensation Group II category of free agents, Langway falls into Group III, which includes players over 31. The Capitals could match any offersheet Langway might sign, but if they declined to exercise that option, they would not receive compensation.

"We're looking at some of the players who will be free agents who are over 31," said Jack Ferreira, the general manager of the expansion San Jose Sharks. Ferreira cannot discuss interest in individual players because that would be considered tampering.

Langway is making $342,500 (plus $75,000 in deferred compensation) this season, which he readily admits puts him some distance from the poverty line. But the NHL's salaries have taken giant leaps in the last eight months and Langway would like to be part of the escalation. He would prefer the money come from the Capitals, but the money looks the same in 13 other NHL towns. Langway, who has negotiated his last three contracts without an agent, said he soon will resume discussions with General Manager David Poile.

"I haven't forced the issue, but it's got to get done," Langway said. "I've got my family and kids to take care of."

Although he was recently divorced, Langway's three children -- Drew, Tucker and Nicole -- frequently visit practice. That's one reason he would like to stay.

"I'm looking for more than just a playing contract," Langway said. "I'm looking for an organizational contract also. I don't want to be a head coach. I'd like to be able to give my opinion. But my big thing would be to help defensemen; say be responsible for helping defenseman on the Caps and in Baltimore. That would be my ideal hockey job."

Playing out his option and signing with another team is one possible scenario. Another is a trade. If the trading deadline nears in March and Poile and Langway are far from an agreement, the Capitals could deal him for fear of losing him without anything in return. If another team felt it was one veteran defenseman away from a Stanley Cup, it might make a decent offer to the Capitals and Langway.

"Certainly, my ideal scenario would be to have him stay and end his career in Washington," Poile said, adding he wouldn't mind further discussions of a nonplaying role.

There are only about a dozen players in the NHL older than Langway (Capitals goalie Mike Liut will be 35 on Monday), with another half-dozen born earlier in 1957. Langway said he doesn't see playing at 39 as Larry Robinson is for Los Angeles, especially in Robinson's reduced role. But like Robinson, Langway has taken steps to prolong his career.

"I used to go out right to the last minute before curfew," Langway said. "After games, I'd enjoy myself, knowing I had the energy and endurance to come back the next day. Now, if I don't get my rest, I'll get nothing from practice."

Langway also has a new defensive partner this season. After helping Kevin Hatcher go from an 18-year-old rookie to being one of the NHL's best, Langway now is with Mikhail Tatarinov. Langway said Tatarinov already is a world-class player, but they stayed late to work on a little thing yesterday.

"When I would yell, 'Reverse,' he didn't know that meant," Langway said. "It's a little play we use to get out of forechecking pressure. I told him I want to get him the puck at every opportunity to use his skill."

With only 51 regular season goals in his career, scoring never has been Langway's game. It always has been those little things, those that don't show up in records.

For example, in the Nov. 28 victory in New York, teammate Dale Hunter was about to take a faceoff near the Capitals' bench. With a little wave of his hand, Langway signaled defenseman Mike Lalor, who still is relatively new to the team, to move three steps to his left. Sure enough, Hunter won the draw and the puck came right to Lalor. Sometimes, those things add up.

"Sometimes, you can see more when you play against somebody," said Mike Ridley, the former Ranger and now teammate. "When you got into the corners {against Langway}, there was no getting out. Sometimes, when you play with them, you take for granted what they do. But everybody knows Rod plays a strong game, pinning guys and moving the puck out of our zone. That's why he's won two Norris trophies and has played so long."