Jan Laco will get his second straight start for Slovakia in Tuesday’s playoff game against the Czech Republic, according to Slovakian news outlet SITA (per Hokej.sk).
Laco, who entered Sochi as the No. 3 goalie behind St. Louis’ Jaroslav Halak and Montreal’s Peter Budaj, was informed of the decision Monday and reportedly earned the start because of his stellar play against Russia in the final group game.
The 32-year-old, who plays for HC Donbass of the KHL, stopped all 36 shots faced in regulation and overtime before losing in a shootout. It marked Slovakia’s best effort of the preliminary stage and provided some optimism after the team conceded 10 goals in its first two games against the U.S. and Slovenia.
After the Russia game, Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros praised Laco — who didn’t even dress in the first two games — for turning Slovakia’s fortunes around following a rough start to the tournament.
“[Laco] was amazing. He kept us in the game,” Mezaros said, per NHL.com. “We had some chances but we helped him too defensively. That’s what teams do. The goalie helps us and we help the goalie.”
Halak was hooked in the loss to the Americans after allowing five goals on 25 shots. Budaj replaced him and didn’t fare much better, allowing two goals on eight shots.
Halak was then given a chance to make amends with a start against Slovenia but dropped the ball in stunning fashion, surrendering three goals as the Slovenians won for the first time in Olympic competition. Afterwards, the Blues goalie took full responsibility for the defeat.
“I think the first goal, that was a really weak goal for me,” said Halak, per NHL.com. “I think that kind of set the tone for the rest of the period for us. If we’re going to blame somebody, I’ll take the full blame for this loss.”
Being surpassed by Laco has to be deflating for both NHL netminders but especially for Halak, who played a major role in the Slovaks success in 2010. Although it’s hard to read too much into his Olympic performance given the small sample size, it does give the Blues something to think about as the trade deadline nears.
St. Louis has the potential to go deep into the 2014 playoffs, but only if its man between the pipes is solid.