On the surface, there was nothing spectacular about the extra effort.

"It’s just what you do, I guess," Auston Matthews said of his 100-foot sprint to chase down Anze Kopitar earlier this week. "You backcheck."

It’s what every coach asks for. But, truth be told, there are star players in the NHL who would have peeled off to the bench and left a teammate to deal with Kopitar rather than exerting all that energy at the end of a shift.

The fact Matthews dug in speaks to an evolving reality for the Toronto Maple Leafs: He and linemates Zach Hyman and William Nylander are becoming just as reliable in the defensive zone as the one where they create all those gifs and highlights.

Unlike a year ago, Mike Babcock is making no discernible effort to shelter his top line.