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The 2015-16 New Jersey Devils and Rebounds at 5-on-5 Hockey

Inspired by discussion after the acquisition of Devante Smith-Pelly and a great post by Sunil Agnihotri at the Copper & Blue on rebounds, I breakdown how the New Jersey Devils and their players have done with 5-on-5 rebounds this season.

Devante Smith-Pelly is seen here in front, hoping to take a rebound shot eventually.  But how well have the Devils done this season with rebound shots?
Devante Smith-Pelly is seen here in front, hoping to take a rebound shot eventually. But how well have the Devils done this season with rebound shots?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Rebounds can become prime opportunities to score in hockey.  They come right after a shot hits the goalie. The puck is saved but it bounces out, but usually not far from the goalie.  Because the goalie got into one position to make the save, he can be completely vulnerable should the opposition get to that rebounded puck, depending on where the puck and player are.  They may not be physically able to make a stop on a rebound.  Defensemen and defending forwards are often present in the slot or around the crease to make sure those second (or third, or fourth, etc.) chances don't turn into goals.  I don't know how often goals are scored off rebounds; I do know that there's been enough of them for coaches to specifically assign players to be in front of the goalie on power plays and instruct lines to follow the old cliche of "Go hard to the net, and good things may happen."

The topic was on my mind for two main reasons. First, the New Jersey Devils acquired Devante Smith-Pelly at the trade deadline.  The narrative I kept hearing on the Devils' broadcast was how Smith-Pelly could provide help at turning rebounds and loose pucks in front into shots and goals.  While he was not (and won't be) a significant scorer, that would be useful in a bottom six role.  Smith-Pelly certainly has the traits for it.  He's a strong winger with the mentality to go into those dirty areas and battle for pucks.  He's proven it in his first game with the Devils in Nashville. His first goal and assist with the team were both around the crease. The goal was a nice breakthrough Rinne's pads. The assist: a shot that became a rebound Adam Henrique slammed into the net to tie the game.  It was very nice. But it also got me thinking about rebounds. Were the Devils really doing enough to generate them? Would Smith-Pelly help them in this sub-set of offense?

Second, this excellent post by Sunil Agnihotri at The Copper & Blue was focused on the Oilers and rebounds.  Using what will probably be The Next Unofficial Advanced Stats Site Bloggers Will Use Heavily For Analysis (From Behind the Net to Extra Skater to War on Ice to...), Corsica, Agnihotri broke down how the Oilers have done at generating rebounds and which players have been present for rebounds for and against them in 5-on-5 play.  It's well done and it taught me plenty about the Oilers about an aspect of the game I've seen and witnessed but never dove deep into.  Needless to say, that really got me thinking about how the Devils would hold up under a similar breakdown.  How well does this team stack up with respect to generating and dealing with rebounds? Who's been present rebounds taken by and against the Devils?  Who's generated the most themselves?

Between the two, I decided to try to do what Agnihotri did at the C&B, only I'm focusing on this season.  I did breakdowns for the team and the Devils players at each position.  Like him, I'm using 5-on-5 stats to avoid any skew due to special teams.  I'm also using Corsica's definition for rebounds, since I am using the site for the counts:

A rebound is defined as any shot taken within two seconds of uninterrupted game time of any other shot by the same team.

I wonder if two seconds is too long, but it's a definition that requires a rebound to be following an actual shot on goal.  As always with any stat, they're driven by the official team scorers, so your mileage may vary on how accurate these numbers are.  Lastly, I took all of the data from Corsica for this post on the morning of March 12.  So this won't include anything from the Los Angeles game from Saturday night.

The 2015-16 Devils & Rebounds as a Team

First, let's get reminded about how bad of an offensive team the Devils have been this season and how not as bad of a defensive team they have been.

2015-16 Devils rebound data graphs for the data

The Devils lag behind the league average in both Corsi For per sixty minutes (CF/60, Corsi is all shooting attempts) and Shots For per sixty minutes (SF/60). The Devils are dead last among all thirty teams both categories.  Defensively, they look much better. Their Corsi Against per sixty minutes (CA/60) is second only to Los Angeles' 49.38. Their Shots Against per sixty minutes (SA/60) rates sixth in the NHL.  If you saw plenty of Devils games this season, then these points don't exactly surprise you. The Devils struggle to attack, much less score goals.  Per Corsica, their goals for per sixty minutes in 5-on-5 play is the league's lowest at 1.64.   Yet, defensively, they're not allowing a whole lot.

Based on this, I would have expected the Devils to struggle with getting rebound shots created by their shots and excel at limiting rebound shots by the opposition.  I turned out to be half-right.

2015-16 Devils rebound data graphs for the data

The Devils absolutely excel in rebound shots against per sixty minutes (RBA/60).  Their 1.42 rate is second only to Toronto for the lowest rate in the NHL.  The Devils have allowed only 75 rebound shots against this season, also the second lowest to Toronto. For comparison purposes, the league average is 99.3.  I'd call that excelling by the Devils.  Yet, the surprise is in the other half of the rink. The Devils have generated 94 rebound shots for, which isn't all that far off from the league average.  In terms of gross rebound shots for, they're seventeenth in the league.  That's close to league median.

Sure, it could be better. But I would expect the lowest attempting and lowest shooting at 5-on-5 to be near the bottom in generating rebound shots for themselves.  That's clearly not the case. Between that and the fact that Toronto is has lowest gross and rate of rebound shots against them tells me that this may not be indicative of how an offense is performing in general.  Getting rebound shots is good and conceding as few rebound shots as possible is also good. It's only just one aspect of offense and defense and it doesn't appear to be a representative one.  I can say that generating rebounds has not been an issue for the team in 2015-16.  And giving them up certainly has not been one either.

The 2015-16 Devils & Rebounds: Looking at the Forwards

We know as a team the Devils have been about decent at making rebounds and superb at limiting them.  How do the players themselves do?  Let's look at the forwards first.  First, here's a chart of the rebounds the forwards have been on the ice for (Rebound Shots For, RBF) and the rebound shots for they've taken themselves (Individual RBF, or IndRBF).  All Devils forwards had to have played at least fifty 5-on-5 minutes to be in this chart.  Smith-Pelly is here, but Mike Sislo, for example, is not:

Forward GP TOI RBF IndRBF IndRBF/60 % IndRBF/RBF
Zajac 60 805.87 33 4 0.30 12.1%
Palmieri 68 911.84 32 12 0.79 37.5%
Stempniak 69 826.89 27 6 0.44 22.2%
Henrique 66 877.33 24 8 0.55 33.3%
Kalinin 64 728.33 24 6 0.49 25.0%
Cammalleri 42 608.70 20 8 0.79 40.0%
Gionta 68 674.86 15 3 0.27 20.0%
Josefson 54 574.45 15 5 0.52 33.3%
Tlusty 30 355.78 15 6 1.01 40.0%
Tootoo 66 656.67 14 4 0.37 28.6%
Kennedy 41 476.52 13 0 0.00 0.0%
Blandisi 29 367.78 12 5 0.82 41.7%
Boucher 26 305.37 12 3 0.59 25.0%
Ruutu 23 258.49 8 1 0.23 12.5%
O'Neill 22 203.56 6 3 0.88 50.0%
Farnham 42 356.55 5 2 0.34 40.0%
Smith-Pelly 50 58.47 4 2 2.05 50.0%
Matteau 25 182.79 2 1 0.33 50.0%
Elias 13 136.97 1 1 0.44 100.0%

It's early for Smith-Pelly.  Pay no mind to his 50 games played, most of those were with Montreal.  Early on though, he's been involved.  Your team leaders in rebounds are your big-minute forwards: Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri (who's the leader in iRBF), Lee Stempniak, and Mike Cammalleri. Sergey Kalinin makes a surprising appearance but keep in mind that he spent a good part of this season in a top six role out of necessity, so that may have boosted his numbers.  I will say that this chart shows that Jiri Tlusty was more involved than one may think since he contributed so little to this season.  I think it reflects well on Stephen Gionta and Jordin Tootoo more than Bobby Farnham and Tuomo Ruutu, even though those two played far more minutes.   In general, the top six has been present for more rebound shots for at 5-on-5 play than the bottom six.

This graph of the gross rebound shots for and against the Devils when each forward was on the ice tells a more compelling tale:

2015-16 Devils rebound data graphs for the data

That tale is that the fourth line looks bad in this category.  They've been giving up more than they have allowed, whether it's a regular like Tootoo or someone who made brief appearances like Stefan Matteau. Even Gionta, whose own count isn't so bad, has been present for so much more against.  Kalinin surprisingly is also in the red, possibly as a result of shuffling between the third line and one of the top two lines this season.  The third line has been around even, although Jacob Josefson is solidly on the right side of this differential.  Ditto Tlusty, though he was moved around as well.  Among the top six, Mike Cammalleri's differential is awesome.  Few against and many for is exactly what one would like to see.  It's more impressive to me even in light of Zajac and Palmieri in this graph, and neither are all that shabby.  Henrique has had a little more trouble, but he's not drowning in rebound shot differential in 5-on-5 this season.

Those are raw counts.  What about if we look at rates to account for ice time?

2015-16 Devils rebound data graphs for the data

Smith-Pelly looks amazing.  While he's only had a handful of RBF, his low ice time means his rate is extremely high. Enough to be an outlier.  As for the rest, the other RBF/60 rates that exceed two are Tlusty, Zajac, Palmieri, and Boucher.  Boucher has sort of been among the others in the chart and the other graph, but he sticks out in a good way here.  I wonder if it's a partly because he's been playing with Zajac and Palmieri more and more in recent weeks.  It still is another aspect of the game where he stands out from Joseph Blandisi, his fellow call-up from Albany.   Moving on, some quick thoughts: Henrique may have been high in gross rebounds for, but his ice time totals betray him and so his rate isn't so high.  Cammalleri still maintains an impressive differential in rate. While others have a negative differential in rebound shot rate, Kalinin and Ruutu are the only ones who have a rebound shot against rate above two.  That may be worth exploring a little further.

The 2015-16 Devils & Rebounds: Looking at the Defensemen

As defensemen, I'm not so interested in how many rebound shots for they were on the ice for.  They certainly wouldn't have many that they've taken themselves.  I would be interested in rebound shots against.  There are no individual numbers, but here's a chart of all eight defensemen on the Devils who have played over fifty minutes of 5-on-5 ice time this season:

Defensemen GP TOI RBA RBA/60
Larsson 68 1198.04 32 1.60
Greene 68 1195.15 33 1.66
Severson 60 905.55 21 1.39
Schlemko 60 837.46 11 0.79
Gelinas 37 408.27 8 1.18
Moore 60 895.37 15 1.01
Merrill 45 658.19 23 2.10
Helgeson 13 167.44 6 2.15

As one would probably expect, the two leaders in ice time (and competition) have been present for the most rebound shots against.  The surprises here are near the bottom.  While Eric Gelinas was limited in use in New Jersey, not too many rebound shots against were taken when he was on the ice.  In contrast - and with more games and ice time - opposing teams had generated more when Jon Merrill was present.  Seth Helgeson's rate is higher, but Merrill has been more of a regular.  He sticks out real sore here.  In contrast, look at John Moore and David Schlemko. Even with some ups and downs this season, they haven't been present for many of these.  While I question how significant of a factor it is - or even if it's considered  by the coaches - I think this partially justifies keeping Moore with Schlemko.  And also why the third pairing has been a rotation among Merrill, Damon Severson, Eric Gelinas, and now Seth Helgeson.  I would think Severson should be a regular; but I can understand about more significant reasons why he wouldn't (namely, his play as of late).

Let's look at rebound shots for and against on a graph for the defensemen, as with the forwards. At least we will see who's got a good differential:

2015-16 Devils rebound data graphs for the data

While Greene and Larsson face the most rebound shots against, they've been present for the most rebound shots for.  That's good. Larsson has been better than Greene, which I find interesting.  Did Greene often get on the ice ahead of Larsson during pairing changes? I don't know. Schlemko's differential is like Cammalleri in how impressive the difference is.  Moore's is similarly good.  Again, Severson looks good here whereas Merrill does not look good at all. Even Gelinas was positive when he was with New Jersey and his defensive acumen was arguably the most dubious at times in this past season.

That all said, that's a raw count. What about if we look at rates to account for ice time?  Let's do it:

2015-16 Devils rebound data graphs for the data

Again, Larsson has a superior differential to Greene, though both are positive.  Schlemko's differential is the best and his usual partner, Moore is solidly positive too.  Yet, I'm more amazed Gelinas turned out to have the highest RBF/60 rate among the Devils defensemen.  I figure his relatively low ice time combined with his usage would have led to more offensive situations that could have yielded more rebounds for.  If that was the plan, along with more shots and attempts, then it worked.  Conversely, Merrill and Helgeson look terrible in this graph.  I know Helgeson doesn't contribute much to an offense. What's Merrill's problem again?  I think we may need another closer look at Merrill after this season.

The 2015-16 Devils & Rebounds: Looking at the Goalies

Lastly, I want to look at the goalies. Like with the defensemen, the key is to focus on rebound shots against. It doesn't matter much to look at a RBF for a goalie; they're not involved in creating them.  Knowing their RBA and RBA/60 gives us an idea as to how they've been at giving up these potentially dangerous shots.

Fortunately, the New Jersey Devils goaltending tandem just hasn't been good at stopping shots; they've been excellent in preventing them.  There have been fifty-nine goalies who have played at least six hundred minutes at 5-on-5. The following ranks are for the fewest in each category. A certain backup is #1 in both:

Goalie GP TOI RBA Rank RBA/60 Rank
Schneider 55 2484.55 65 48 1.57 16
Kinkaid 16 682.16 10 1 0.88 1

Granted, Kinkaid's usage has been among the most limited among all fifty-nine goalies.  Only Phillipp Grubauer, Curtis McElhinny, Anders Lindback, and Calvin Pickard have played fewer minutes. All are backups with their teams. Still, being the best among them all is worth noting.  Kinkaid just doesn't give up a lot of rebound shots against. Neither has Cory Schneider. While his total RBA is close to the wrong type of top-ten, his RBA/60 paints a more accurate picture.  He's definitely got a low rate, especially among goalies one would consider as starters.   Only Jake Allen (I'm stretching on calling him a starter), Tuukka Rask, and Petr Mrazek have lower rates.  This matches up with what I've seen from both goalies. They've been adept at not only making saves, but they do attempt to swallow up shots to freeze pucks.  Should they have to concede a rebound, they do try to put it into an advantageous location for them and/or their skaters to clean up a potential mess.

Concluding Thoughts

I expected the Devils to be great in preventing rebounds and they are.  Most of their defensemen have positive gross rebound and raw rebound differentials.  Both Schneider and Kinkaid have low rebound shot against rates. As a team, they are among the best in preventing them.  However, I also expected them to be among the worst at rebound shot generation for themselves because they are so pitiful in generating offense in general.  Not so.  They're not far from the league average or the league median in team rebound shots for.  Most of their top six forwards have positive rebound differential in both gross and rate, especially Cammalleri.  Those who are negative in those categories play regularly in the bottom six.  Since they don't play as much, they cannot and have not dragged down the team in this area of the game.

A statement by Micah Blake McCurdy comes to mind that I'll paraphrase:  In analysis, you sometimes research something to answer a question and you find out that it's just not true at all.  I think that applies to a degree here here. Allowing rebound shots isn't an issue at all. Simply, among the issues the Devils have, particularly on offense, rebound shot generation isn't one either.  If it is, it certainly can be put on the back burner. Issues that are more pressing would be ones such as: passing, executing passes and zone entries properly, shot selection, and a general level of talent - especially at forward.  Improvements there should hopefully drag the Devils out from being at the bottom in CF/60 and SF/60.  That, in turn, could lead to more goals.  It'll at least make the Devils more threatening or even threatening at all going forward.  More rebound shots could come from that, but it'll be a side benefit.

I will say that the question of Smith-Pelly providing help in this aspect of the game remains open.  As it should be, he's only been a Devil for five games.  We may not even get a proper answer until he plays a full season with the team.  That may be worth exploring in the future in a closer look at the forward.  It may be worth it to see how the 2015-16 Devils have compared with past seasons under different head coaches to see if their rebound shot generation or allowance has followed some kind of trend.  We'll see about that one.  It'll be another long summer, after all.

All the same, I think this has been instructive about this season's Devils team and rebounds. Again, the TL;DR is that rebounds haven't been a problem for the 2015-16 Devils.  Thanks to Sunil Agnihotri for writing an excellent post that inspired this one.Let me know what you think about the Devils, rebound shot generation and allowance in general, and other thoughts from this post in the comments.  Thank you for reading.