2015 Rostelecom Cup preview (pairs): A Russian face-off

If you're wondering why people are so excited about pairs this season, look no further than the field at the 2015 Rostelecom Cup this week. You have three pairs who are World podium contenders, plus four others who can definitely finish in the top ten at Worlds. Add to the fact that Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov are back, and, just today, Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot made a stunning debut, the depth in the pairs event this season is just amazing. And you'll see a nice glimpse at that this week in Moscow.

Rocker Predictions: 2015 Rostelecom Cup

GOLD Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov RUS - It's looking like we are seeing the second coming of Kavaguti/Smirnov this season. Just when people are writing them off (again), they have returned this season with new fire, and more importantly, a second throw quad. That element keeps them in the conversation technically, because their side-by-side jumps are behind most of the top pairs. It will be interesting to see their progress this week, as they are facing off with Stolbova/Klimov and Peng/Zhang, both of whom have had the upper hand during the past few season. But I'm seeing them get their second GP win 

SILVER Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov RUS - Off the podium was certainly not what Stolbova/Klimov were expecting at Skate America four weeks ago. But they have gotten a bit of shakiness that we haven't really seen. You wonder how much of it has to do with their antsiness about getting their technical content up to par, knowing that they will be left behind if they don't. We'll see where they are this week, but I have a hunch that they are building this season, and we will see better performances from them in Moscow than we saw in Milwaukee.

BRONZE Cheng Peng/Hao Zhang CHN - Fourth in the short last week at Bompard, Peng/Zhang seem to be having issues with side-by-sides again, which have not traditionally been their strength. The steadiness that they have in the throws and twists is just not there with the side-by-sides, particularly with Peng. And that may be the difference this week.

4. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro CAN - With a first-ever medal on the Grand Prix (bronze), Moore-Towers/Marinaro's improvements and hard work are paying dividends this season so far. They have become a more solid pair in their sophomore season, and they perhaps have the biggest chance of these next four pairs to surprise on the podium.

5. Natalja Zabijako/Alexander Enbert RUS - The new Russian pair had a very strong debut competition at Mordovian Ornament. This is Zabijako's fifth pairing in six seasons, and it seems (fingers crossed) that she may have finally found the right person for the job in Enbert. They have dark horse potential written all over them.

6. Tarah Kayne/Daniel O'Shea USA - Sixth at Skate America, Kayne/O'Shea need to put down a couple of solid programs to make sure that they stay on the radar of the international judges, especially given this season of pairs. If they put down a good short, then their upside potential will be much larger. Will we see the throw quad sal this week again?

7. Valentina Marchei/Ondrej Hotarek ITA - Three weeks ago, Hotarek suffered a concussion that took them out of Skate Canada after the short program. It seems to be the injury of the season, and it's not something that skaters are really able to come back from that quickly (it's not like skating is a bunch of spinning or anything ...). It's the reason I have them this low at Rostelecom this week, but his level of recover will have a lot to do with where they finish.

8. Hayleigh Bell/Rudi Swiegers CAN - New Canadian pair Bell/Swiegers were fifth in their debut as a pair earlier this season. They are just not there with the rest of this field to put up much of a challenge, though.