Hockey may finally strike the right note in Washington, when Capital Centre is host to the NHL All-Star Game next season. As competition, the game usually inspires wide yawns, but as a meeting place for social butterflies, it passes all tests.

Most visitors to the 33rd annual contest here Tuesday were more excited about tonight's $150-a-plate black-tie dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel, with its potential for celebrity watching, than about the game itself, where spectators will need an updated program to adjust for absentees and substitutes.

The NHL, since the retirements of Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe, is seriously lacking in charismatic superstars. Many of what it possesses in the "subsuper" category have called in sick for this one, including Guy Lefleur, Bryan Trottier, Larry Robinson and Borje Salming.

Lafleur has had a series of injuries this year and Robinson is tired, but both were prominent in Montreal's 6-2 rout of Boston Saturday. Salming, withdrawn earlier because of sinus problems, played in Denver Sunday.

NHL President John Ziegler put the All-Star Game in perspective when he placed it at a lower level of importance than that Toronto-Colorado game and all the other 839 contests that make up an interminable regular season designed to eliminate five teams from playoff participation.

"The All-Star Game is a showcase and it is important in that it is a spectacle, almost a social event," Ziegler said. "The All-Star Game is fun and this should be a fun game Tuesday night.

"For these young men, their business is playing hockey in the regular season and the playoffs. They should not be placed in a position of having to play in the All-Star Game. The regular-season game is their main business, their livelihood. The withdrawals are not a big problem. We have lots of talent."

So does Hollywood, and perhaps hockey would make a bigger hit here with Robert Redford and Cheryl Ladd on skates than with Paul Holmgren, Bob Murray, Robert Picard and John Ogrodnick, all-stars all.