AS THE NHL gears up for its most important regular-season game of the year - and no, we're not talking about tonight's Los Angeles at Winnipeg battle - concern and tension is growing in Pittsburgh.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma says Sidney Crosby is still "having [concussion] symptoms" and there is no timetable for his return. Pittsburgh hosts the Flyers tonight.

Crosby was initially injured in last year's Winter Classic game against the Capitals. He tried to play through it and hasn't been the same since.

The HBO documentary, with its charming looks behind the curtain, and the splendor that will be Citizens Bank Park this weekend, should not conceal two fundamental aspects about hockey: It's brutal out there. And you can't step out of bounds to avoid a hit.

Seat happens

Coach Marvin Lewis has done a good job in turning the Bengals around from last season's 4-12 disaster into a playoff contender. Even if, as the Daily News pointed out Tuesday, Cincy fans have not embraced the ride.

The Bengals offered a 2-for-1 deal on tickets in order to reduce the chances that Sunday's critical game against the Ravens won't be blacked out locally. The gimmick worked and the game will be televised in Cincinnati. Not that the town deserves it - or the resulting playoff berth the Bengals would get with a victory.

Odds and ends

Nice line by Associated Press pro football writer Barry Wilner. "Barring a complete reversal of conduct," he wrote, "the Raiders will break the NFL mark for penalty yards, needing 12 against San Diego - which they could get on the coin toss if they misbehave" . . . Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky missed practice yesterday after his wife delivered triplets. That means the Orlovsky family has more children than wins this season (3-2) . . . Among goalies who've appeared in at least 10 games, Ilya Bryzgalov came into last night 35th in goals against (3.01) and 43rd in save percentage (.890). But it's only December, right?