Detroit — Think about the wives and girlfriends, coach Mike Babcock said.

With the Red Wings pretty much camped at home for the past month, think about the aggravation of their wives and girlfriends and the fact the ladies need a break.

It's time for the Red Wings to hit the road, for a while.

"You think about those poor wives, they've had these guys home for a month," Babcock said. "My wife has my bags packed in the garage."

Things are going to begin to even out on the Red Wings schedule.

And how they respond over the next two months likely will decide if they're a playoff team or not.

Beginning with Saturday's game in Ottawa, the Red Wings play eight of their next nine games on the road and 19 of their next 26 away from Joe Louis Arena.

The New Year's Eve game against New Jersey is the only game at Joe Louis Arena during this nine-game stretche.

The Red Wings have had 22 games at Joe Louis Arena, where they are 12-4-6, while they've only had 13 road games (6-4-3).

Included in the road games are a three-game trip through western Canada, a crucial two-game division trip through Florida, games at Stanley Cup contenders Pittsburgh, Chicago and St. Louis, and a West Coast trip.

This two-month stretch could define the Red Wings season.

And another winless streak such as the six-game slide the Red Wings suffered before winning Tuesday against Buffalo, could prove to be awfully detrimental.

"Absolutely," said Niklas Kronwall, whose availability for Saturday because of an upper body injury will be determined at the morning skate. "That's how it goes (these days). The teams are so good nowadays that nobody is creating too much separation from the other teams.

"If you look at the top teams, and then the teams at 11, 12 or 13, there's isn't much room. There are a lot of teams still in (it), everyone basically is in the playoff race. You just have to stick with it and get points every night."

Howard back

The Red Wings are expecting to have Jimmy Howard (groin) back for Saturday's game in Ottawa.

Howard missed the last two games before the holiday break because of a groin injury he suffered during the first period of Dec. 19 game against the New York Islanders.

"Better to miss one game than try to force it and be out for three or four weeks," said Howard, who felt he could have played Tuesday but it was best to sit. "It's just precautionary and we'll pick it up where we left off in Ottawa."

Ice chips

Kronwall was hit near the head area by Buffalo's Tyler Ennis and missed the last half of the game. Also hit in the head was Stephen Weiss, who missed the final minutes of the third period but was cleared after the game after passing concussion tests.

…Playing on the road against Ottawa and Boston these next two games, the Red Wings have an opportunity to improve a .500 record in the standings.

The Red Wings are only 5-5-6 against their division rivals in the Atlantic Division.

Red Wings at Senators

Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa, Ontario

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The teams have split two games this season, each winning on its home ice…The Red Wings will face Ottawa for the first time since Paul MacLean (former Red Wings assistant coach) was fired…The Senators are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games.