Matt Lenz was nothing short of amazing on Tuesday night as he backstopped the Steinbach Pistons to a 1-0 win over the Winnipeg Blues at Bell MTS Iceplex.
In the first period, Steinbach had a couple of chances early but then sat back a bit as Winnipeg tilted the ice towards Steinbach's end. A couple of good stops from Lenz helped get him some confidence, which he would need later in the opening period.
At the midway point of the first period and just seconds after Steinbach was assessed a minor penalty, they would be penalized again to go down two men for almost a full two minutes.
Great penalty killing by Steinbach limited the Blues and the three-man PK unit along with Lenz were able to stand tall and keep things scoreless through the opening 20 minutes of play.
In the second, Steinbach found their legs and started to up the intensity.
A number of good chances came off Piston's sticks but the closest they came to breaking the scoreless deadlock came as a sweeping shot made its way through the pads of the Winnipeg netminder but even though the puck was loose and clearly visible, the referee blew the play down, possibly costing Steinbach the all-important first goal of the game."
Head coach Paul Dyck was less than thrilled with the call on the ice but after the game found a positive to take out of it. "I think we're learning how to deal with adversity," the coach said from just outside the locker room. "I think we're maturing and not letting things get us down. We just keep working and that's what you like to see."
A scary moment as the period was down to it's final minutes as Winnipeg defender Griffen Chwaliboga hit Pistons forward Boedey Vaeth knee on knee, sending the 20-year-old forward to the ice in obvious pain. After being looked over by trainer/athletic therapist Jeff Eidse, Vaeth needed teammates help to make his way to the bench.
Chwaliboga was given a mere two minute minor for kneeing.
Vaeth did not return to the game.
After allowing 14 shots in the first period, Steinbach only allowed 3 in the second but neither team could find the back of the net and it remained scoreless heading into the third period.
Winnipeg looked as if they would break the scoreless draw in the third as they broke in on an odd-man rush. As the cross-slot pass made it's way to the waiting Blues stick, Lenz pushed over to make a great save and as the rebound came out, the Blues forward fluttered it over the net.
With Steinbach shorthanded, an undisciplined play by a Blues forward put his team down a man at the same time but more importantly, it put the faceoff down in the Winnipeg zone.
Brendan Martin would take the faceoff in the offensive zone and he won the draw forward to himself, made a nice move to cut into the slot, faked a shot and as the Blues goalie bit, Martin moved around and slid the puck home for his 23rd of the year.
The unassisted goal gave Steinbach the 1-0 lead with 5:18 remaining.
Winnipeg would pull the goalie with two minutes remaining but great defence by the Pistons kept the Blues to the outside for the most part and Lenz was able to fight off any pucks that did find their way through.
As the horn sounded, a little dust-up between the two teams but nothing really came about and the Pistons skated away with their second consecutive win.
The power play went 0-3 while the penalty kill was a perfect 6-6.
Can't Spell 'Amazingly Sensational' Without L-E-N-Z
With the 26 save performance, Matt Lenz picked up his second shutout of the year and improved his record to 8-2.
Despite what might be his best performance of the year, the always humble Lenz was quick to share praise. "I thought the boys played a really good game tonight. I thought we came out strong but Winnipeg pushed back in the first but in the second we got our legs going. We had some pretty big kills tonight and I just did my job. The boys did too, they made my job not too hard tonight. I was able to make fairly easy saves for the most part and control rebounds."
Lenz has filled in admirably since taking over for Matt Radomsky who won Bronze at the World Junior A Challenge for Team Canada West and the workload on top of the success has really boosted Lenz's confidence. "I've gained a lot of confidence and for me to get seven starts in a row, it's been a big help. it's helped my game grow and helped me see I can be a top-tier goalie in this league. The boys have my back and I have theirs and it's always easier to play for a team like this.
After the game, the coach pointed to Lenz specifically as a player that deserves recognition, not just for the shutout on Tuesday but for his overall play of late. "I thought Lenz has been playing good hockey and he's getting more comfortable. He didn't get to play a lot in the first third of the season but it could have been his best game (tonight) but he's had a number of solid games and he deserves to feel good after this one."
The Pistons earned 4 out of a possible 6 points during this three games in four nights road trip which included long travel to and from Swan Valley and Dyck liked what he saw from his team over the three-game segment. "We're finding different ways to win and probably that first game in Swan we maybe deserved a better fate, at least should have ended up on the board and in that second game we got a little bit of puck luck and then today was a grind. I think we're seeing a bit of playoff hockey here and guys have to stay patient. It's not always going to go your way, you're not going to always get the calls so I like that we're responding better to adversity in the games. It's a sign of maturity."
More Work Before Santa Comes To Town
The Pistons have two more games, a rematch with the Blues in Winnipeg on Friday night and a home game vs the Selkirk Steelers on Saturday night before they get their Christmas Break.
Dyck has already given that some thought and has addressed it with his players that they can't relax heading into these final two games before the break. "We've had discussions early in December, it's a great month, it's fun to be in the Christmas spirit and we want the boys to enjoy that but I think when we hit the ice for practice and certainly for games, we have to be fully invested at the task at hand. For the most part, we've been doing it. When we get back, the season happens really fast. Once we're back in January, it's almost two-thirds of the way through. We need to focus on the playoffs and putting ourselves in the best position possible."