VANCOUVER, British Columbia — What happens in Russia stays in Russia, when it comes to the St. Louis Blues and starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
Halak was 0-2 for Slovakia at the Olympics with a 5.13 goals-against average and an .857 save-percentage. He was benched for the final two games of the tournament in favor of little known Jan Laco, whose numbers at the end were actually more impressive.
The Blues, though, say they're unconcerned about Halak, who is 24-8-4 with a 2.26 GAA and .915 save percentage this season, including a mark of 8-2-2 before the Olympic break.
"This isn't to dismiss the Olympics at all, but I think it's a difficult game to (evaluate a goalie)," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I saw (Henrick) Lundqvist, who basically sat on the goal line because it's a protected area from the blue paint. I saw teams who had five (players) back on every rush, so they just defended.
"I just think it's a real improper evaluation of any goaltender. Halak has been really good for us, he's been really competitive after a tough outing, he's had the mental capability of bouncing back and playing great the next night. So we've got all kind of confidence in him."
Slovakia went 0-3-1 at the Olympics and gave up 16 goals, the second most at the tournament. Nearly half of those came in an opening-round 7-1 loss to the U.S., in which Halak surrendered five goals on 25 shots before being lifted.
"That's hockey. We didn't play great," Halak said. "At the Olympics, when you play against the best, you need to play the best. We need to do our best every night. We didn't do that."
Halak received the nod in Slovakia's second outing against upstart Slovenia, a game that remained 0-0 into the third period. He finished with 28 saves, but Slovenia managed a 3-1 victory.
"The first game against the U.S., I thought Slovakia was overwhelmed," Blues goalie coach Corey Hirsch said. "There's a big gap between the really strong super-power teams and the teams that are just trying to keep their heads above water. Was it Jaro's best game? No and he'll tell you that. But it wasn't certainly his fault why that happened. And then the second game, I thought he played really well."
But Halak didn't receive another assignment at the Olympics.
In the team's next game, Slovakian head coach Vladimir Vujtek called on Laco, a backup goaltender in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
"Obviously I didn't expect it, but we needed to win, we needed to make a few changes," Halak said. "Coach changed the goalie and that was it."
Laco nearly made the difference. He posted 36 saves against Russia, sending a scoreless game into a shootout, where the Slovaks fell 1-0.
They stuck with Laco in their qualifying game against the Czech Republic, which jumped out to a 4-0 lead and held on 4-3.
During the game, Halak made headlines on the TV broadcast. According to reporter Pierre McGuire, Halak had been informed by Vujtek that he wouldn't play again in the tournament.
"I was never told I was done for the tournament," Halak said. "I just figured maybe I was after we played well in Russia game. I was still hoping to get back in there, but it didn't happen for me."
It seemed like an unlikely claim considering Halak suited as the backup instead of Peter Budaj. Then again, Hirsch didn't know what to make of the situation when the Slovaks turned to Laco instead of Budaj, a longtime NHL goalie who is currently the backup in Montreal.
"They bypass Budaj and went with the other guy?" Hirsch said. "There was obviously something pre-tournament that they had decided."
But that's all water under the Zamboni machine now, as the Blues return to action. Unless the club pulls off a deal involving Halak before the March 5 trade deadline, the lion's share of the starts could be his in the final 25 games of the regular season.
"There's still a lot of hockey left," Halak said. "I'm still looking forward to the rest of the season. I'm going to try to do all I can. I need to get back to it. I need to get back to a few really good practices and then play the game.
"I know we've got a really good team. We just need to keep playing the same way we were before the break. I know the guys will be tired getting back, but we just need to make sure everybody plays their best game in Vancouver."
The Blues insist that they're not worried about Halak.
"Absolutely, no issues," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "He's an elite goalie. He's one of the best in the league right now. It was a short tournament with all the travel and a different team too. (Slovakia) is not a defensive team like we have. It's a different style of hockey that he saw there.
"It's two games. It really means nothing to what he means to our team. We've got all the faith in the world in him."