By­ron, 21, will try to end Day­tona 500 pole-sit­ter jinx Team­mates praise Mer­rill’s play

Steady, two-way per­for­mance drives sup­port for Knights de­fense­man

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - SPORTS - By Adam Hill Las Ve­gas Re­view-jour­nal

De­fense­man Jon Mer­rill took the puck from be­hind his own net and cre­ated just enough space to fire a pin­point 100foot pass through traf­fic. He hit Cody Eakin in stride be­hind the de­fense for a goal that sparked the Golden Knights rally for a mas­sive road win at Tampa Bay last week.

It was an All-star cal­iber play against the league’s best team from a guy who watched all but one game from the press box as a healthy scratch from Nov. 18 through Dec. 22.

Mer­rill, who signed a two-year con­tract ex­ten­sion that runs through next sea­son, has been ac­tive in six straight games and 16 of the last 19 and has paid div­i­dends for the Knights.

Mer­rill trailed a short-handed rush by Wil­liam Karls­son and Reilly Smith dur­ing Satur­day night’s game against Colum­bus and fired home a re­bound past

Sergei Bo­brovsky to put the Knights ahead for the first time late in the first pe­riod.

It was his sec­ond goal of the year and the first short-handed goal by a de­fense­man in team his­tory.

“Ob­vi­ously, we’re hockey play­ers and we want to play,” Mer­rill said af­ter the 4-3 loss to the Blue Jack­ets. “When you get out there and you get op­por­tu­ni­ties, it makes it a lit­tle eas­ier.”

Mer­rill is ex­pected to be in the lineup again Tues­day when the Knights play the Ari­zona Coy­otes at T-mo­bile Arena in a 7 p.m. game.

He’s been in­valu­able to the team as a main op­tion early in the sea­son when de­fense­man Nate Sch­midt was sus­pended for 20 games and now as they try to get healthy.

The team didn’t prac­tice Sun­day so there was no up­date on de­fense­man Nick Holden, who is on in­jured re­serve and hasn’t played since Jan. 21. It’s un­clear if he will be able to re­turn dur­ing this cur­rent stretch of eight home games out of the next nine, which started with Satur­day’s loss.

Mer­rill, who has two goals and five as­sists to go along with a plus-5 rat­ing, just hopes they can find a way to take ad­van­tage of this point in the sched­ule af­ter the Knights dropped their third con­sec­u­tive home game for the first time this sea­son.

Mer­rill was paired with Holden early in the sea­son and again when Colin Miller was in­jured last month, but has been play­ing with Miller the last few games. They were able to quickly re­build the chem­istry they found dur­ing last post­sea­son when Mer­rill was ac­tive for eight games of the Stan­ley Cup run.

“We played to­gether a good amount last year in the playoffs, so we know each other pretty well and we have a good time play­ing to­gether,” Mer­rill said. “He’s ob­vi­ously a gifted of­fen­sive player, so I’ve just got to make sure I’m in good spots for him out there.”

His team­mates have taken note be­yond just the goal against the Blue Jack­ets and the pass that helped the Knights rally from a 2-0 deficit against the Light­ning to snap a four-game los­ing streak two days af­ter his 27th birth­day.

Sch­midt thought the goal was indica­tive of how Mer­rill has be­come more com­fort­able.

“He’s been play­ing great,” Sch­midt said. “I love his game right now. Con­fi­dence is the key to any player, no mat­ter what sport you’re in. I think when you’re see­ing plays, and you see an op­por­tu­nity and you’re con­fi­dent, you’re go­ing to jump in, penalty kill or not. He makes a great read there be­cause some of their for­wards had given up on the play. He had a chance to slip in the slot there and make a great play. You love see­ing that. A guy comes in and he’s played awe­some for us.”

Con­tact Adam Hill at [email protected] re­viewjour­ or 702-2778028. Fol­low @Adamhill­lvrj on Twit­ter.

Jon Mer­rill

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