Where would the Leafs be without Kessel?

Forget for a moment the fresh and yet-to-be-determined injuries to forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur and ask yourself this: Where would the Maple Leafs be this morning if it weren’t for the handiwork of Phil Kessel?

It may have often been ugly Tuesday night at a dead Air Canada Centre, but the Leafs still managed to salvage a shootout-loss point to the Phoenix Coyotes.

A couple of big glove saves late by Ben Scrivens roused the 19,522 in attendance from their slumber but the real signs of life were provided by Kessel. The biggest, of course, was the power-play goal 4:41 into the third to force the extra period, but as has been the case so often this season, every time No. 81 got the puck there was ample reason to pay attention.

The goal was Kessel’s 13th of the season in the team’s 18th game, a noteworthy stat when compared to last year’s 32-goal effort. Thanks to a couple of prolonged slumps, he didn’t reach that mark until Christmas was all wrapped up, in Game 35 which was played on Dec. 28.

“He’s such a gifted player, he makes things happen,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, who thought his team showed something by grinding out a point despite the stumble-start that was in part his own doing.

“When he has the puck on his stick, he’s an exciting player to watch and to play with. If he gets a step, he’s gone. I think you saw it again tonight. He’s got that extra gear. He’s a special player and he’s got that special speed.”

Yes, they call him Phil the Thrill for a reason and there is probably no need to remind Coyotes defenceman David Schlemko, who twice in the first period alone was left swatting at air three strides into another Kessel rush. Each time Kessel got in alone on Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, but each time was denied.