Avs' Smyth joins Sakic in dismantling shorthanded Wild

DENVER (AP) -- Ryan Smyth came to Colorado for the chance to play with Joe Sakic.

So far, that free-agent deal is paying off for everyone.

Smyth had a goal and an assist, and Sakic helped set up two scores Sunday in leading the Colorado Avalanche past the Minnesota Wild 3-1.

Smyth, who has five goals, developed chemistry with Sakic while winning an Olympic gold medal and two world Championships for Team Canada. They are still clicking with the Avalanche.

"He recognizes the shooter and he reads the play as he sees it," Smyth said of Sakic.

The two connected on Colorado's first goal. Smyth stole the puck from defenseman Pierre-Marc Bouchard and worked a give-and-go with Sakic and beat Josh Harding with a one-timer at 8:29 of the opening period.

"If I could ask one guy not to have the puck right there, it would be Joe Sakic," said Minnesota rookie Josh Harding, who made 19 saves in place of injured Niklas Backstrom (groin). "He's a great player and knows what he's doing. I have to respect that shot, and he got the feed over to Smyth."

Sakic set up Marek Svatos' winning goal in the second period when he corralled the puck behind the Minnesota net and passed to the left side of the goal. Svatos skated across the front and slid a backhander past Harding for his fifth goal.

"When Joe's on the top of his game like he is now, it makes everybody around him a lot better," Smyth said. "It's nice to get goals when he's setting us up."

The Wild, 0-2-1 since a 7-0-1 start, had tied the game at 1 on a power play when Bouchard's pass from the corner found Eric Belanger between the circles. Belanger wristed a shot past Peter Budaj with 4:18 left in the first period.

It was the only blemish in a solid performance by Budaj, who had 29 saves.

"I don't want to take anything away from them, but there were not many huge backdoor chances," Budaj said. "The defense did a great job. They cleared the rebounds."

Minnesota was playing without two top offensive players, Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra, who sat out with groin injuries.

"I think we did fine, we just had to do different things against certain guys because of the injuries that we have," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "That's the way it is. When you have guys missing, you need your defense to be its best and play the best they can."

The Wild nearly tied it with 2:58 left. Petteri Nummelin skated around the back of the net with the puck and tried to put a shot into the top of the net. Budaj reached with his glove and made the save.

"I guess I should have gone even higher," Nummelin said. "I had a little more room."

Wojtek Wolski scored an insurance goal with 37 seconds left when Paul Stastny fed him in the slot. Wolski beat Harding with a one-timer to help the Avalanche improve to 5-0 at home for the first time since moving to Colorado in 1995.

"Certain things were pointed out going into the season, and winning at home and playing well at home was important," Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said.

Game notes
Backstrom and Gaborik were injured during practice Saturday. Demitra was hurt in Minnesota's win over Colorado on Oct. 21. ... Svatos and Smyth tied Sakic and Stastny for the Avalanche team lead in goals. ... Colorado forward Milan Hejduk missed his fourth straight game with a back injury. ... The game was moved from 6 p.m. MDT to 1 p.m. to avoid a conflict with Game 4 of the World Series, played that night at nearby Coors Field.