Patrick Chan's artistry compensated for popping the back end of his opening jump combination and put the world champion well into the lead Friday after the short program at the Rostelecom Cup stage of the ISU Grand Prix series.
Chan, who finished second at Skate Canada International two weeks ago, was nearly nine points ahead of his nearest rival, despite turning a planned triple after his initial quad toe into a single. The 21-year-old from Toronto blamed the mistake on nerves, saying "I always feel shaky" when skating last.
His anxiety may have been increased by the unexpectedly strong performance of Russia's Konstantin Menshov, who at age 29 has never won a Grand Prix medal. Menshov was flawed only by a wobbly triple axel landing and a lacklustre triple lutz. He slightly outpointed Chan technically, but his program component score was well below.
Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir lead after the short dance.
American Gracie Gold narrowly heads the women's field in Moscow heading into the free program, while Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov lead the pairs.
Menshov said he wasn't happy with his steps sequence and humorously hinted that he was feeling his age: "The only thing I kept thinking during it was how hard it will be to do it tomorrow!"
Another veteran fared far worse. Johnny Weir's return to major international competition after a two-season hiatus saw almost nothing go right, except for the loud welcome he got from Russian fans who love his flamboyance and his affection for Russia. He finished in a distant last place.
Gold started the day as the lowest-ranked skater in the women's event but ended on top after a graceful and assured short program. But she has less than a two-point lead over the next two contenders for medals, Kiira Korpi of Finland and American Agnes Zawadzki.
Gold, who placed seventh in Skate Canada two weeks ago, showed no signs of uncertainty in her short skate to "Hernando's Hideaway," knocking off an opening triple flip-triple toe loop, a triple lutz and a double axel with aplomb.
"Skate Canada was my first Grand Prix and only my third international competition, really, and I got very nervous before the competition and put a lot of pressure on myself and I was not able to skate like I did in all of the practices, but here I just remembered to … take a deep breath," she said.
Korpi, the bronze medallist at Cup of China last week, doubled the second part of a planned triple toe-triple toe combination, but recovered to precisely land a triple loop and double axel.
"For me, it's a very challenging situation because I competed last week at Cup of China and now I have to put all the jet lag and tiredness and everything behind me and just focus on the skating," she said.
Volosozhar and Trankov took a commanding lead in the pairs, followed by compatriots Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov and Americans Caydee Denney and John Coughlin.
Home audience favourites Alena Leonova and Adelina Sotnikova go into Saturday's free skate within striking distance of a medal.
Leonova, the world silver medallist , appeared well on her way to recovering from her dismal seventh place at Skate America, then made it less than halfway through her intended double axel.
Sotnikova, third at Skate America, started with a strong and elegant triple-triple, then singled her triple flip to end in fifth place, five points behind Gold.
Both top Russian pairs generated emotional heat in different ways.
Volosozhar and Trankov skated to a gutbucket rendition of the love theme from "The Godfather," opening with an exuberant triple twist and following it with a fast and well-synched triple salchow.
"It's our best performance of the season. But I don't think it's our maximum," Trankov said, adding that the pair think competing in Moscow is good preparation for the high expectations likely to face them at the Sochi Olympics. "We want to get the rapport with the crowd and get used to the pressure."
Bazarova and Larionov emanated old-fashioned elegance in their program to "Liebenstraum," marred only by his putting a hand down on the opening triple toe loop.
"We're very happy," Larionov said. "I had this mistake on the jump, but I tried to move on and express the emotions."