Optimism is hard to come by when you’re playing out the string. Giving up five goals and an empty-netter, and watching the Devils snap a 10-game losing streak, makes it impossible for Flyers’ fans.

A bit of unsolicited advice for players and management: Don’t read the comments sections.

With that said, let’s take a second trip down to the farm this week and check in with the Phantoms. Making a run at the North Division title doesn’t mean a darn thing this year, but that’s not to say there hasn’t been some encouraging news out of Lehigh Valley.

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— Ed Barkowitz (flyers@inquirer.com)

Scott Gordon has the Phantoms sitting pretty for a playoff spot, except for one thing …

As rough as the Flyers have had it this year with COVID-19, the Phantoms probably have had it worse.

Two separate stoppages, numerous games rescheduled, and do you know why they were drilled by Hershey, 6-1, last week?

“Ten guys got the vaccine on Monday night [April 19],” explained coach Scott Gordon. “They were all OK on Tuesday. But then Wednesday, six of them had the normal side effects.

“They were all good Thursday, but unfortunately, we played Wednesday. … We had to play seven guys who hadn’t played in over a month.”

Despite all the distractions, especially losing his best players to call-ups as the Flyers prepare for the future, Gordon has the Phantoms (15-4-3) within three points of the division lead with a two games in hand and eight to go.

But there is no talk of a Calder Cup run since the AHL is not holding playoffs this season. With three teams opting out and seven others relocating, the league’s done well just to get this far.

“In a normal year, you are shooting for a championship and team success,” Gordon said. “But this year, there isn’t a playoff, there isn’t a championship. We’ve still got to play the game the right way and get better.”

There were nights he had enough forwards to use six lines, and others where it was shift-to-shift combat.

Veteran Cal O’Reilly, 35, had three assists on Monday to become the 10th player in the American League with 500 career assists. Goalie Zane McIntyre, 28, is 10-1-2 with a .917 save percentage.

But for Gordon, he loves the contributions he’s gotten from the kids.

“In years past, I don’t think we’ve had the amount of impact from our first-year players that we’ve had this year,” the coach said. “It’s all of them. Even Cam York has come in and fit right in.”

York, the Big 10 defenseman of the year and the Flyers’ 2019 first-round pick, turned pro less than a month ago after his University of Michigan season was prematurely ended by a COVID-19 outbreak. He scored his first goal on Monday, but missed Wednesday’s game with what Gordon called a minor injury. Gordon hopes York can play Saturday.

Other youngsters contributing are defenseman Mason Millman (19 years old), and forwards Tyson Foerster (19) and Zayde Wisdom (18). All three would be in juniors this season if not for the pandemic.

Foerster, the Flyers’ first-round pick in 2020, is second on the team with nine goals (in 18 games).

“When players get drafted and they’re going into their 19- or 20-year-old season as a junior, there’s maybe an element of complacency. They know they’ve been drafted. They know they’re a top player,” Gordon explained.

“This has forced them to have to play out of their comfort zone if they want to have success. The pace of play, the strength of the players, the players are smarter. You have to do a better job of protecting the puck. The toe-drags, the stickhandling through people has to be removed from your game. You have to make adjustments. To a man, they’ve all done a pretty good job of that.”

Things to know

Three and out

Remaining schedule

Thursday: at New Jersey, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)

Saturday: vs. New Jersey, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)

Monday: vs. Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)

Tuesday vs. Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)

Friday, May 7: at Washington, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)

Saturday, May 8: at Washington, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)

Monday, May 10: vs. New Jersey, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)

From the mailbag

I’m so done with this version of the Flyers. Slow starts for as long as I can remember. They dig a hole for themselves - in games, in series, in the season - and then spend their energy digging out of it, leaving nothing for the next contest. The team needs leadership on the ice that brings intensity from the first drop and holds players accountable for poor play. The whole “it’s okay” attitude that permeates the captaincy must go. Pronger got in people’s faces, and the team responded with a Cup run. This group pats young players on the back and we’ve got one playoff series win in ten years. Cut bait and start over.

Inquirer.com user howard beale ubs

***

Who cares who won? Claude Giroux scored a goal and that gets him that much closer to Clarke’s record!

Inquirer.com user rich_2df8d

Send questions or observations via Twitter to beat writers Ed Barkowitz (@EdBarkowitz) or Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) or columnist Mike Sielski (@MikeSielski).