WEST VALLEY CITY — The Utah Grizzlies are the best they have been since they joined the ECHL three seasons ago. Starting tonight, they'll find out just how much they have improved when National Conference-leading Las Vegas enters the E Center for the first of a three-game set at 7.

The 16-2-2 Wranglers are also here Friday and Saturday, and the trio of games kicks off the second half of the Grizzlies' longest homestand of the season. They've played five, and 11-9-0-2 Grizz were 3-0-0-2 in the first five, gaining standings points in each of them. Utah is third in the West Division behind Victoria and Alaska. They are 7-2-0-2 at home this season. Las Vegas is 8-1-1 on the road and is tied for second overall in the 25-team league.

Utah will be without its penalty-minute leader, rookie left wing Micheal Haley (94 minutes, second in the league), who was called up Friday to AHL Bridgeport, where he scored a goal in his first game.

Also gone from the roster is veteran goaltender Brett Jaeger (0-5, 5.64 goals-against average). He was released to waivers Sunday, with rookie Nathan Lawson having played well since he was picked up on waivers while Jaeger was on injured reserve. Jaeger was claimed by Wheeling Monday.

Utah is led in scoring by Scott Burt with 11 goals and 12 assists, 12 in the league in overall points, followed by linemates Keith Johnson and Trevor Smith with 19 points each. Johnson is fourth among ECHL rookie scorers and second in rookie goal scoring with 14 and is the most accurate active rookie shotmaker league, scoring on .219 of his attempts.

Las Vegas's Bruce Mulherin (.269) is the most-accurate active shotmaker in the entire league. The Wranglers are led in scoring by Peter and Chris Ferraro with 22 and 21 points, respectively.

Fresno, second to Vegas in the Pacific Division with 25 points, completes Utah's homestand next Tuesday and Wednesday.

E-mail: [email protected]