Goalies 101: Rebound Control
There are a number of terms used by the goaltending community that are understood differently by different parts of the hockey community. The differences in usage and meaning can lead to confusion and can make it harder for discussions about goaltending to bear fruit. In some ways, goalies and non goalies are often talking a different language. In an attempt to clarify some of these concepts, InGoal is bringing you Goalies 101, a series that aims to explore how goalies talk about goaltending. You can read the complete series here.
Rebound control seems simple on the surface. The concept is straightforward: rebound control is the ability of a goaltender to (a) determine the best place for the puck to go after it hits her and (b) actually put it there. This idea is, I would argue, deceptively simple. So much so that it leads to faulty assumptions about rebounds, what creates them, what controlling them looks like, and – the most critical of all – where the value in rebound control really lies.
Take this quote from The Contrarian Goaltender in 2009:
Rebound control is especially prone to being overemphasized because it is an obvious skill. You don’t have to know much about goaltending technique to know whether a goalie is controlling his rebounds, you just need to watch where the puck ends up after it hits him. Lots of people who aren’t goalies can speak knowledgeably about a goalie’s rebound control.
Yet many observations made about rebounds are often vast oversimplifications, in large part because of this assumption that simply noting where the puck ends up tells you everything you need to know.
In essence, while the concept of controlling rebounds may be simple, rebounds themselves are complex.
The placement of a rebound is shaped by a number of different factors, only some of which are in the goaltender’s direct control and only a few more that she can account and adjust for.
In addition, as one goalie coach once told me, some shots can’t be controlled.
A list of the factors that affect rebound control would be very long, but they include
- where the shot originated
- angle and velocity of the shot
- whether the puck is deflected (which can change not only trajectory but also velocity)
- whether the puck is wobbling or not
- where teammates are
- where opponents are (in relation to the goalie, the net, and goalie’s teammates)
- how square the goalie was to the shot
- where on the body the puck hits
- what kind of equipment the goalie wears and how she wears it
- the goalie’s body alignment (i.e., is the goalie aligning their body to direct the rebound in the appropriate direction)
Of these ten factors, only the last four are under the direct control of the goaltender. The first six are elements the goalie is attempting to read and adjust to: the physics of the shot itself and the lie of the play.
Rebounds are also inevitable and ubiquitous. The majority of saves a goalie makes result in a rebound – somewhere in the 65-75% range at the NHL level. This has been shown by a number of different studies, the most recent being Matt Cane’s article in November at Hockey-Graphs.com. (It is possibly very slightly higher, given that the methodology used in this study does not account for a goaltender collecting a rebound within two seconds of the save. These would be considered freezes, but are actually controlled rebounds.)
A rebound happens when the puck comes off of the goaltender’s body on a save. In essence, anything not frozen on initial impact (caught or suffocated) is a rebound. There are five different outcomes to a save:
a. Frozen (no rebound)
b. Out of Play
c. Recovered by the goaltender
d. Recovered by teammates
e. Recovered by opponents
Most of the time, people talking about rebounds talk almost exclusively about the fifth outcome, when the puck is recovered by opponents, especially when a second shot materializes. All rebound statistics you find on the internet today only attempt to measure rebounds gathered by opponents or pucks frozen. They leave out the actual control part of rebound control.
Not every rebound is bad, and not every freeze is good. Moreover, rebounds aren’t considered dangerous in relation to a fixed location (the corner, the slot) but rather in relation to what else is happening on the ice. Sometimes the least dangerous place for a rebound to go is directly to the slot. Sometimes the worst place for it to go is into the corner.
It is a shame that so many people fixate on such a small part of the whole with rebounds, paying attention to them mostly or exclusively when they result in a second chance shot. Rebounds can contain a great deal of information about how a goaltender is playing, in both the short term and the long term.
If a goaltender is seeing a lot of shots pop upwards or outwards at odd angles, she may have a body alignment issue. If she’s giving up second chances on clean, perimeter shots, she’s not square to the shot. If most of her rebounds are coming off of deflections close in, however, it could mean she’s seeing tougher chances. If a goalie is having a rebound control issue, it usually starts with poor puck tracking. And that’s important information about performance.
Knowing where the shot originated, and under what circumstances, is critical to evaluating rebound control. Knowing if the goaltender is able to direct a significant portion of rebounds to areas where her teammates can regain possession tells us about her ability to read plays as well as her body mechanics.
It is important to take all of this into account before declaring that a goaltender has poor or great rebound control and especially before deciding how important rebound control is as a goaltender skill.