Dave Newell, one of the National Hockey League's top referees for the past 18 seasons, will be toiling at a much lower level this week. However, it is for a good -- and perhaps revolutionary -- cause.

Newell will be in Indianapolis Thursday and Friday to officiate the Checkers' International League games against Salt Lake City. At those games, experiments involving the use of televised replays will be conducted and, if successful, could be introduced into the NHL as early as next season.

Newell, the president of the officials' union, will be assisted by veteran NHL linesmen -- Kevin Collins both nights, John D'Amico Thursday and Ron Finn Friday.

"If we're going to involve the officials in something like this, we want them totally involved at the beginning," said Scotty Morrison, NHL vice president for officiating. "That way they can see the benefits and assist in whatever comes out of it."

Stationary cameras will be placed 30 feet above each goal to aid in determining whether the puck has crossed the line. A third camera at center ice will follow the play.

The referee can check the replays at any time to help him reach a decision. Each coach will be granted one appeal per period, only on whether or not a goal has been scored, and if the referee looks at the replay and agrees to change his decision, a second appeal will be granted.

"I'm basically for use of cameras only in a goal or no-goal context," Morrison said. "That can be very useful. But I'm totally opposed to going beyond that and becoming involved in other areas of officiating.

"For example, if you try to use a video replay to determine whether there has been a hand pass or a high stick before the puck is in the net, somebody will say, 'Let's go back to the blueline and check for offside.' I don't think we want to open all that up."

Decisions on whether a puck has entered the net are, of course, crucial in a sport in which scoring is limited. There were a number of incidents last year in which replays indicated official error, largely a result of the presence of extra padding behind the crossbar that was removed this season.

However, questions still arise frequently. Three times, replays have cast doubt on officials' rulings at Capital Centre.

Mike Gartner's hat trick against St. Louis Oct. 29 was tainted because one of the goals was allowed by referee Dan Marouelli on a shot that apparently struck the crossbar. When Washington beat Minnesota, 7-5, on Jan. 21, referee Ron Wicks ruled a third-period shot by the North Stars' Brian Bellows had crossed the line, despite a midair kickout by Al Jensen. Later, a Bellows shot apparently slid over the line before Jensen smothered it; this time, the decision was no goal.

"Obviously, there are always going to be disputed goals," Morrison said. "The referees are anxious to get the play right. The worst thing that can happen is for a referee to say a puck is in, no question, and be wrong. For that reason, I think the referees will support the experiment and be willing to consult the replay if they are in doubt."

One of the persons instrumental in setting up this week's trial was Capitals General Manager David Poile, whose father, Bud, is president of the International League. David Poile feels so strongly about it that he will spend his 37th birthday in Indianapolis Friday.

"Six clubs will have representatives there," Poile said. "A report will be prepared afterward to take to the board of governors in June, with a recommendation on possible future use."

In a further test at the two games, Newell will wear a microphone and announce penalties, except where multiple calls are involved, without going to the bench.

"We tried that in a few exhibitions and we found that players tended to go to the box faster, with less tendency to dispute the decision," Morrison said. "But we still have a long way to go on that one."

Donald P. Beach, in a letter to the editor Sunday citing the Capitals' failure to win "crucial games," mentioned a 3-2 home-ice loss to Vancouver as a costly defeat the last year (1981-82) Washington failed to make the playoffs. Actually, the Capitals' only loss to the Canucks that season was in Vancouver in October.

Washington, following a 1-14 start, wound up 10 points behind fourth-place Pittsburgh in the Patrick Division and was more a victim of that awful beginning and bad luck than anything else. That was the first year playoff spots were decided by division; the Capitals were 16th overall.

Mike Fornes, the Capitals' TV announcer, knows something about baseball, too. Fornes, a college player at Kent State, was the batting star of the Baltimore Orioles' recent Dream Week, fulfilling his fantasy with 10 hits in 13 at bats, including the only home run.