Merrill was on the ice when his Michigan squad lost to Minnesota-Duluth in overtime of the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four championship game at the arena. But he began rebuilding his relationship with the venue Sunday night, getting his first goal this season in the Devils’ 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.
Merrill’s score capped a flurry of action early in the third period and helped New Jersey snap a season-high three-game losing streak.
“It’s kinds of karma,” Merrill said. “This rink owed me one. Now I’ve got a good memory here.”
Minnesota’s Zach Parise scored his 16th goal of the season and first against the team with which he spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career. Darcy Kuemper made 15 saves in his return from a concussion, suffering his first regulation loss of the season in 10 games.
Merrill scored his first goal in 82 games, snapping a stretch that dated back to Dec. 13, 2014.
“I think you see tonight just the difference in the game when we can get some offence from our defencemen, whether that’s in the rush or the offensive blue line, it’s a big difference for us,” Devils coach John Hynes said. “It was nice to see him get his first goal and we need to continue that with our defencemen.”
Henrique scored 1:21 into the third period, but Parise got his goal less than 2 minutes later. Merrill put New Jersey back ahead just over 3 minutes after Parise’s score.
Beginning a season-long four-game trip and missing several key players, the Devils got just enough offence against similarly stingy Minnesota. Both teams entered play among the top five in the NHL in fewest goals allowed per game.
The teams combined for 20 shots the first two periods.
“We had shot opportunities that we decide that there might be a better play, and then we try to make four more passes to get the puck back at the same spot to try and shoot it again,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We had the mindset that we were going to try to look for a better opportunity and along the way we lost more than we had.”
Aside from Parise’s score, Schneider kept up his recent success on the road. Schneider is 11-5-2 with two shutouts, a 1.98 GAA and a .935 save percentage in 18 starts away from home this season.
New Jersey is playing without leading scorer Michael Cammalleri, who missed his fifth-straight game. The Devils are also without Patrick Elias and placed Jiri Tlusty on injured reserve this week. Four players in Sunday’s lineup had played a combined six NHL games this season as promoted reinforcements.
“This is the time where you need guys to step up,” Henrique said. “There’s a lot of opportunity for guys coming in the lineup and getting more of a chance to play. We need guys to take advantage of that.”
Minnesota was returning home following a win at Western Conference-leading Dallas the night before and couldn’t find the same pace to its game.
“Seven shots after two periods in your own rink against a team that, no disrespect to them, but they got a lot of guys injured, a lot of minor league players are playing for them, it’s not good enough,” Parise said. “We want to catch Chicago. We want to catch St. Louis. We can’t come out and play like that.”
NOTES: Parise, the former Devils first-round draft pick, has now scored a goal against every NHL team. … F Tyler Kennedy and D David Schlemko returned to the lineup for New Jersey after each missed two games with injuries. D John Moore (lower body) missed his second straight game. … The Wild were 0 of 1 on the power play and now have one power-play goal in their last 12 games (1 of 22). … Minnesota is in the midst of playing six of seven games against the Eastern Conference. The Wild are 1-2-2 in the recent stretch and are 8-5-2 against the East this season.