Off-year for L. A. Kings or aging club on decline?

The Los Angeles Kings aren’t an old team per say, but many of their top players are on the downswing and it’s hurting them in their first-round series against the San Jose Sharks, or so it seems. Otherwise, the Kings’ problem could be a simple lack of hunger to win displayed by a team that’s won before and played more playoff games than any other NHL franchise over the past two years. I’m not sure which is happening. Could be a bit of both.

Never mind age for a second, because there is no set age that guarantees a player will transform from effective to insignificant. The San Jose Sharks have a couple NHL greybeards in captain Joe Thornton and franchise scoring leader Patrick Marleau, who can both still skate at a high-level and produce in several areas despite being born in the 1970s. Age is catching up slowly with San Jose’s older stars.

Conversely, the Los Angeles Kings’ older statesmen don’t appear to be experiencing the same graceful aging. Centre Mike Richards, who was incredible in two Stanley Cup runs — a 2010 Finals appearance with the Flyers, and the 2012 Stanley Cup victory of the Kings — has gradually lost a step, and it shows. But Richards is only one man.

2014 NHL trade deadline acquisition Marian Gaborik is a shell of his former self. The speedster from Slovakia is a talented goal-scorer still, but the explosiveness that once defined his game is all but gone, rarely glimpsed these days. Without a speed advantage Gaborik is no longer the scoring threat that was often unstoppable in days of old.

The Kings blue line features three big bodies who have all seen their better days come and go: Robin Regehr, Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene. While the three stay-at-home defender veterans are still serviceable NHLers, all have lost enough of a step to get lit up in the playoffs — at least against the depth and team speed of the San Jose Sharks in the first-round.

Or maybe not.

Maybe Mike Richards is simply having an off-year and Marian Gaborik is still overcoming injuries that plagued him throughout the season. And the Kings’ veteran defencemen were good enough to assist their club in allowing the least amount of goals against in the regular season through 82 games in 2013-14, so maybe they’re not washed up at all.

You can’t win ’em all could be the simple explanation for what is happening to the Los Angeles Kings, who trail 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks in the first-round of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

In 2012, the Kings won the Stanley Cup with ease, losing two measly games prior to a Finals showdown against the New Jersey Devils — a series L. A. won in six games.

One year ago, the Kings advanced to the Conference Finals, eventually losing to the healthier Blackhawks — and last year was Chicago’s year. En route to their 2013 semifinals loss to the eventual champions, the Kings stingily stymied the Sharks in the second-round, needing seven games to do it, while only allowing ten goals against over the course of the lengthy series. The Sharks have now scored seventeen goals against the Kings in three games to begin the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs first-round.

Times change, teams do too. Yesterday’s champion is prone to becoming this year’s disappointment — we’ve seen it over and over again in recent Stanley Cup playoffs history. The grind required to play multiple rounds of postseason hockey is simply too devastating and strenuous to repeat over and over again, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe when we learn each team’s injuries once they’ve been eliminated.

It’s extremely unlikely the Kings will win their first-round series against the San Jose Sharks.

Down three games to zero is nearly impossible to salvage. Since 1942 — which was seventy-two-years ago — only three times has an NHL team survived trailing 3-0 in a series to win in seven games.

The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs pulled it off against the Detroit Red Wings, the year Paul McCartney was born.

Thirty-three-years later, the New York Islanders stormed back from 3-0 down to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In 2010, the Flyers erased a 3-0 series deficit and 3-0 Game 7 hole to stun the Boston Bruins.

Coming back from down three-nothing in the Stanley Cup playoffs is incredibly rare, and seems to only occur once every three decades. That being said, nothing is impossible, so maybe the Kings can pull this off and win four-straight against the Sharks. Winning four games in a row doesn’t sound that difficult — it happens all the time in the regular season. In fact, the Sharks have lost four straight twice this season, and the first time it occurred the losing streak was sparked by a loss to the Kings, so anything is possible.

But what if it doesn’t happen? What if the Sharks dispose of the Kings in Game 4 at the Staples Center? Will it have happened because the Sharks are that good? The remainder of the postseason will provide us with the answer to that question.

Or are there bigger concerns with the Los Angeles Kings? Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar aside, can the usual suspects, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Co. still get the job done in the spring?

Or is this simply an off-year for the Kings veteran core of proven playoff performers?

The truth is, we probably won’t know the real answer until next spring.