There are few pressure situations in hockey more critical than that facing a minor league player who knows he is being evaluated by the big league brass.

Center Grant Martin responded to that inspection Wednesday and, as a result, he will be making his debut for the Washington Capitals tonight at New Jersey.

There will be some other changes tonight. Center Gary Sampson, who was called up a week ago and played two games without scoring, was returned to Binghamton yesterday. Coach Bryan Murray called Sampson "a very hard-working player who's had a tough time scoring. When we're looking for a guy at that position, he has to do something really well. Gary's been a winger in the past and, through no fault of his own, he's weak on faceoffs."

Murray also said defenseman Kevin Hatcher, who has been struggling since playing an outstanding game Dec. 22 in Quebec, would be benched tonight.

"He's not as sharp as he was and tomorrow I want him to sit with (assistant coach) Terry (Murray) and talk and ask questions," Bryan Murray said. "I want to get him back playing as strong as he was before Christmas."

One defenseman whose strength Murray doesn't have to worry about is team captain Rod Langway, who yesterday was voted to the NHL's starting all-star team for the Wales Conference. He received 165,885 votes as fans for the first time selected the team. The game is Feb. 4 in Hartford.

As for Martin, he was returning to action after suffering a torn muscle in his rib cage when he collected a goal and two assists for Binghamton Wednesday in a 5-3 loss in Hershey, Pa. More important, in the view of Murray, who watched along with General Manager David Poile and the Capitals' three assistant coaches, Martin was "involved."

"There are other guys (Daryl Evans and Mark Taylor) scoring more at Binghamton, but what impresses me about Grant is the way he's willing to get involved on the ice," Murray said. "He doesn't play on the fringes. His helmet was getting knocked off, he was getting thrown around and he was throwing guys around. I like that."

Martin, who had 13 goals and 30 assists in 34 games, also is considered a faceoff expert and Murray indicated he would take key draws tonight and Saturday, when Philadelphia visits Capital Centre, as well as play a regular shift between Gaetan Duchesne and Bob Gould.

"They told me I'd be here for the weekend and after that I guess it's up to me," Martin said. "I was kind of surprised they called me up, because I had been hurt and I'd only played two games in the last three weeks.

"But they talked to everybody before the game, so we knew what was at stake. So much of getting a chance in the NHL is being in the right place at the right time."

Martin was drafted by Vancouver in 1980. He later learned that was the wrong place, failing to score a goal in 24 NHL games over two seasons before the Canucks released him in June of last year. He then signed with Washington.

"I had an awful start in Binghamton, along with everybody else, but things started to come around. One thing, I got plenty of ice time. One night we'd have 13 players, the next night 20. It was really strange."

Strange might be a good word to describe Martin's faceoff tactics, too. At 5 feet 10, 190 pounds, he has a low center of gravity and, holding the stick barely a foot above the blade, he sweeps the puck diagonally.

"I need all the advantage I can get, so I cheat as much as I can get away with," Martin said. "I get thrown out of the draw quite a bit, but I win more than my share."

Center Bengt Gustafsson will play tonight, after missing Tuesday's 4-3 loss to Calgary because of a pulled leg muscle. Pete Peeters will be in goal tonight and, if all goes well, he also will face the Flyers Saturday. That would end the strict rotation with Al Jensen that Murray has followed since Peeters was obtained from Boston Nov. 14. Bruins 3, Flames 2

Boston went ahead to stay when Ray Bourque's long slap shot deflected off the Flames' Hakan Loob at 6:49.

Randy Burridge and Barry Pederson also scored for Boston as visiting Calgary suffered its 13th defeat in 15 games. North Stars 4, Blues 3

Dino Ciccarelli scored twice and Neal Broten had three assists as Minnesota held off visiting St. Louis.